Lloyd Austin: US Defence Secretary readmitted to hospital

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was notified, as were the White House and some members of Congress

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a press conference at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.AFP
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US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin was readmitted to hospital on Sunday “for symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue", the Pentagon said, weeks after a stay he controversially kept secret prostate cancer treatment.

In a statement, the Pentagon said Mr Austin was taken by his security detail to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre.

On Sunday afternoon, Mr Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office of the Secretary of Defence to Deputy Secretary of Defence Kathleen Hicks.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was also notified, as well as the White House and some members of Congress.

Mr Austin was due to depart on Tuesday for Brussels to hold a meeting of the Ukraine contact group, which he established in 2022 to co-ordinate military support for Kyiv after Russia's invasion.

After that, he was scheduled to attend a regular meeting of Nato defence ministers. It was not immediately clear if his hospital admission would change those plans.

Mr Austin apologised this month after coming under political criticism for keeping the previous hospital admission secret.

“I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis,” he told journalists on February 1.

At the time, he said he was in recovery, suffering from leg pain and using a golf cart for transport inside the Pentagon.

The undisclosed absences, and this current hospital stay, come at a time when the US faces a crisis in the Middle East, with American forces in Iraq and Syria facing near-daily attacks from Iran-backed militants in retaliation for Washington's steadfast support of Israel.

Mr Austin is also a key figure in attempts by the Biden administration to maintain support for Ukraine's fight against the Russian invasion, as Republican members of Congress refuse to authorise new funding for military aid to Kyiv.

Updated: February 12, 2024, 8:51 AM