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7 Jan, 2024 07:45

Biden didn't know Pentagon chief was in hospital – Politico

News of Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization “came as a shock” to senior US officials, the outlet reported
Biden didn't know Pentagon chief was in hospital – Politico

The Pentagon kept US President Joe Biden’s administration in the dark for three days about the hospitalization of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Politico reported on Saturday, citing sources.

The Department of Defense revealed to the public only on Friday night that Austin had been admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center the previous Monday – saying that it was due to “complications following a recent elective medical procedure.” It added that the 70-year-old official was “recovering well and is expecting to resume his full duties today.”

The Pentagon did not provide any details about his medical condition. However, an NBC News report claimed that Austin had spent four days in intensive care. A source for the network also said that despite the Pentagon’s statement, Austin was still in hospital as of Saturday.

However, according to three US officials interviewed by Politico, it was not only the public that was unaware of Austin’s hospitalization, but also Biden and his administration. National security advisor Jake Sullivan and other senior officials did not know about the secretary’s absence until January 4, three days after the fact, the article said, adding that Sullivan informed Biden shortly after he was notified by the Pentagon.

Politico sources suggested that it was highly unlikely that Austin told Biden privately about his hospitalization before Sullivan. As a result, the news about the defense secretary “came as a shock to all White House staff,” the outlet reported, adding that National Security Council officials were surprised it took the Pentagon so long to notify them, while the Congress received all the information 15 minutes before the official statement.

“This should not have happened this way,” one official told Politico.

However, according to the outlet and NBC, Biden and Austin had a cordial conversation, with the US president wishing the Pentagon chief a speedy recovery.

On Saturday, Austin himself issued a statement admitting that he “could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed.”

The Pentagon’s reported failure to inform the White House of Austin’s hospitalization comes in the midst of a security crisis in the Middle East – in which Houthi rebels in Yemen repeatedly attacked US warships in the Red Sea, deployed since the start of the Hamas-Israel conflict.

US military bases in Iraq, as well as its outposts in Syria, have also come under strikes from local resistance groups that Washington believes are linked to Iran. Tehran has said that those groups are acting independently.