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16 Jan, 2024 22:15

US defense chief ordered ‘subtle’ ambulance – media

A new wrinkle has been reported in Lloyd Austin’s efforts to keep his hospital stay and medical condition secret
US defense chief ordered ‘subtle’ ambulance – media

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s security detail reportedly tried to conceal his emergency trip to the hospital earlier this month by directing an ambulance crew to be “subtle” – with lights and siren turned off – as it approached his home in suburban Washington.

The 911 emergency call was placed from Austin’s home on January 1 and was apparently made by a security aide, USA Today reported on Tuesday, citing a recording of the conversation.

The caller asked that the defense chief be transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Dispatchers sent an ambulance and firetruck to Austin’s home at 7:15pm, four minutes after the 911 call was placed, and he arrived at Walter Reed more than an hour later, according to the report.

The directive for emergency responders to discreetly pick up the defense secretary marks the latest wrinkle to surface regarding Austin’s efforts to keep his hospital stay and health troubles secret. Unbeknownst to President Joe Biden and other US officials, Austin had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December.

The 70-year-old former US Army general and Raytheon board member underwent surgery to treat his cancer on December 22. Austin fell ill with severe abdominal, leg, and hip pain on January 1, the day that an ambulance was called to his house. Doctors found that he had a urinary tract infection and transferred him to Walter Reed’s intensive care unit for close monitoring.

Biden and other White House officials did not learn that Austin was in the hospital until January 4. Even Austin’s deputy, Kathleen Hicks, who took over some of his responsibilities during his absence from the Pentagon, did not know he had been hospitalized until January 4.

The Pentagon issued a brief public statement the next day and waited until January 9 to reveal Austin’s cancer diagnosis. The defense chief was released from the hospital on Monday and said he would continue to recuperate while working from home.

The secrecy over Austin’s health status and whereabouts came amid rising tensions in the Middle East, including attacks against US military bases and warships by Iranian-backed militant groups. CNN reported on Friday that Austin ordered and oversaw US airstrikes against Yemeni Houthi rebels from his hospital bed.

The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating failures to properly notify White House officials, lawmakers, and members of Austin’s own staff about his hospitalization. Hicks was on vacation in Puerto Rico while filling in for her boss without knowing why he was unavailable. US media outlets reported that Biden wouldn’t consider firing Austin and wouldn’t accept his resignation if he chose to step down amid the controversy.