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China Comes to Djibouti

Why Washington Should be Worried

Djiboutian officers at the closing ceremony of the multinational field training exercise of the Eastern Africa Standby Force in Grand Bara, December 2009. U.S. Army / Master Sergeant Carlotta Holley

The tiny African nation of Djibouti is the unsung hero in the United States’ ongoing war against terror and piracy. A few security scares notwithstanding—the U.S. embassy was briefly closed earlier this month for unexplained reasons—the country is a rare oasis of stability in the Horn of Africa. Camp Lemonnier hosts U.S. Special Forces, fighter planes, and helicopters, and is a major base for drone operations in Yemen and Somalia. Small wonder that Washington recently renewed its lease on the base for ten years (with an option to extend for another ten), even though Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh nearly doubled the rent.

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The United States’ investment in Djibouti, which amounts to more than $70 million per year including economic aid, is money well spent. Washington needs Djibouti—and Guelleh knows that all too well. France, Germany, and Japan have also handed over tens of millions

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