Controversy has erupted in Washington, DC, following claims that the hospitalisation of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin III was kept under wraps by the US Pentagon, with US President Joe Biden not informed of the incident until days later.
According to Reuters reporting into the apparent lack of communication of Austin’s hospitalisation, three days passed between the Defense Secretary being admitted for treatment on 1 January and Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks being informed on 4 January.
The lack of communication by the US Pentagon that its head of department had been admitted to hospital has been seized upon by political rivals, and those concerned about an apparent lapse in a critical element of the US Adminstration’s command and control network.
The first public disclosure by the Pentagon of Austin’s hospitalisation was not made until 5 January.
A statement released by US Representatives Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Adam Smith (D-WA), chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), regarding the notification of Austin’s recent hospitalisation detailed their “concern” at how the eventual disclosure was handled.
“Several questions remain unanswered including what the medical procedure and resulting complications were, what the Secretary’s current health status is, how and when the delegation of the Secretary’s responsibilities were made, and the reason for the delay in notification to the President and Congress,” the joint HASC statement read.
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“Transparency is vitally important. Secretary Austin must provide these additional details on his health and the decision-making process that occurred in the past week as soon as possible.”
Former Republican President Donald Trump was also quick to jump on the growing controversy, taking the social media to call for Austin to be “fired immediately” from his position.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton also took to social media to demand explanations as to why Secretary Austin’s hospitalisation was apparently withheld.
In response to the growing calls for an explanation as to that apparent breakdown in communications protocol, US Pentagon Press Secretary Maj Gen Pat Ryder said on 7 January that Austin “remained hospitalised” but was “recovering well” at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“Since resuming his duties on Friday evening (5 January), 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.
“The Secretary spoke to President Biden [on 7 January]. He has also been in contact with Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen CQ Brown and his senior staff.”
No timeline has been disclosed for Austin’s return to office.
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