US defense chief still working remotely from hospital
Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder has admitted that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was still in the hospital, nearly a week after a secret “elective medical procedure” went awry. Austin, the spokesman insisted, is “recovering well” and continues to fulfill his duties.
The defense secretary was admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center last Monday, but his whereabouts and condition was not revealed it to the public until Friday, when he reportedly fully resumed his responsibilities.
“Since resuming his duties on Friday evening, the Secretary has received operational updates and has provided necessary guidance to his team. He has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor DoD’s day-to-day operations worldwide,” Ryder said in a brief update on Sunday night.
It was not only the public that was unaware of Austin’s hospitalization, but also President Joe Biden and his administration, according to multiple officials interviewed by US media. Ryder stressed that Austin spoke to Biden on Saturday, and “has also been in contact” with the deputy secretary of defense, Kathleen Hicks, but did not clarify when exactly the White House was informed that the defense chief was out of commission.
The Pentagon claimed that over the past week, Hicks “conducted some routine business” on Austin’s behalf and was fully “prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the secretary, if required.”
However, the Pentagon’s second-in-command herself was on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time, and reportedly was not informed of the gravity of Austin’s condition until Thursday afternoon. Hicks apparently decided not to cut her vacation short after being told that Austin was preparing to resume operational responsibilities.
The Pentagon did not provide any details about Austin’s medical condition, but an NBC News report claimed that he had spent four days in intensive care. “While we do not have a specific date for his release at this time, we will continue to provide updates… as they become available,” Ryder said on Sunday.
Amid public outcry over the secrecy and concerns that a breach in the chain of command could have put national security at risk, Austin issued a statement on Saturday, saying he “could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed.” He insisted, however, that it was his personal medical procedure and took “full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”