In the midst of heightened tensions in the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was admitted to the hospital and spent four days in the intensive care unit, as revealed by two senior administration sources.
Surprisingly, the Pentagon did not notify key figures in the White House’s National Security Council about Austin’s hospitalization until Thursday. This disclosure came three days after his admission to Walter Reed Medical Center.
On Monday night, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was hospitalized due to “complications following a recent elective medical procedure,” as stated by Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder on Friday evening.
In a statement released on Saturday, Austin acknowledged responsibility for the delayed disclosure of his medical condition.
Confirmed by a senior administration official, President Joe Biden engaged in a conversation with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Saturday evening. This communication represented the first contact between the president and Austin since the latter’s hospitalization.
Since New Year’s Day, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was unable to carry out his responsibilities, as stated by a senior defense official on Friday. The source mentioned uncertainty regarding his release, and specific information about his ailment was not provided.
According to Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, speaking to NBC News, Austin resumed his full duties on Friday evening. However, he remained hospitalized as of Saturday.
In the absence of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, who was on scheduled leave, has assumed his responsibilities, as conveyed by the senior defense official.
It’s worth noting that Hicks was on a pre-scheduled leave during Austin’s hospitalization this week, according to a defense official. She has been on vacation in Puerto Rico during this period, the official added.
The third-ranking position within the civilian leadership at the Pentagon, specifically the office of the under secretary of defense for policy, is currently being filled on an interim basis. This is due to the fact that Derek Chollet, the nominee for the position, has not yet received confirmation from the U.S. Senate, as mentioned by the source. Sasha Baker has been serving in the acting capacity in this role since last summer.
Pentagon officials declined to provide details about Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s condition or specify the factors preventing him from fulfilling his duties this week.
Additionally, the Pentagon withheld information about the nature of the procedure, its timing, and whether Austin was transported to the hospital via ambulance.
During Austin’s hospitalization, the United States executed an uncommon and contentious strike targeting a high-ranking militia member backed by Iran in Baghdad. American bases have faced a minimum of six attacks, and the Biden administration has been evaluating potential courses of action, including strikes against Houthi militants, in response to their persistent assaults on ships in the Red Sea.
The United States is cautious about getting more deeply involved in the region, especially with the exchange of munitions between Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and Israel along its northern border.