Top military officials were initially unaware of Austin’s hospitalization -media By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends a welcome ceremony before an annual security meeting with South Korean Defence Minister Shin Won-sik at the Defence Ministry in Seoul, South Korea on November 13, 2023. JUNG YEON-JE/Pool via REUTERS

By Hannah Lang

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The number two at the U.S. Defense Department was not informed that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had been hospitalized when she assumed some of his duties on Jan. 2, according to a report from CNN.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was not notified until two days later that Austin had been admitted on New Year’s Day to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, CNN reported on Sunday citing two unidentified defense officials.

Reuters reported on Saturday that President Joe Biden was only informed of the hospitalization on Thursday evening, according to a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Pentagon said in a statement on Sunday said that Austin spoke with Biden on Saturday.

Austin sits just below Biden at the top of the chain of command of the U.S. military and his duties require his being available at a moment’s notice to respond to any manner of national security crisis.

Austin, who is 70, said in a statement on Saturday that he took “full responsibility” for the secrecy surrounding an ongoing, week-long hospitalization for a still unspecified medical condition.

A spokesperson for the Pentagon said Austin remains in the hospital and is “recovering well,” noting that he resumed his full duties on Friday evening.

The Pentagon also said Austin has been in contact with Hicks, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Q. Brown and his senior staff but did not say when he would be released from the hospital.

Politico reported that Brown did not learn of Austin’s hospitalization until Tuesday.

The Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on when Hicks and Brown learned of Austin’s hospitalization.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said during a press conference on Sunday that he “wasn’t aware of his medical issue” and had spoken to Austin last weekend.

“I’m very much looking forward to seeing him fully recovered and working side by side,” Blinken said.

It remains unclear the extent to which his duties were delegated to Hicks, or whether Austin was involved in any key decisions during his absence.

The Pentagon has yet to detail why Austin is being treated, whether he lost consciousness over the past week.

Democratic Representative James Clyburn told CNN on Sunday that he had been told Austin is “now in charge of things as he was before the illness” and that he didn’t think the lack of disclosure was a dereliction of duty.

“He does have a duty to keep the public informed, and I don’t know whether it was him or somebody inside of the military establishment that decided to do it this way, but I’m sure he will do a little better going forward, as he said he would,” Clyburn said.

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