His multiple hospitalizations in the greatest discretion had created controversy. US Defense Minister Lloyd Austin was again admitted to hospital this Sunday for “an urgent bladder problem”, before delegating his duties to his deputy, the Pentagon announced. Since this Sunday at 5 p.m. (11 p.m. in Paris), Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks has assumed the role of head of the Pentagon, department spokesperson Pat Ryder said in a statement.
This Monday morning (French time), he was “admitted to intensive care”. “This evening, after a series of tests and evaluations, the Secretary was admitted to the intensive care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for supportive care and close monitoring,” the Pentagon said in a statement. . “At this time, it is not clear how long Minister Austin will remain hospitalized,” said the press release from Dr. John Maddox and Gregory Chesnut. “The current bladder problem should not affect his expected full recovery. His prognosis for cancer remains excellent,” add the doctors.
Hours earlier, the Pentagon had indicated that Lloyd Austin had “gone to the hospital with the necessary classified and unclassified communications systems” to carry out his duties. Lloyd Austin, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer and recently underwent surgery, was again admitted to Walter Reed military hospital in suburban Washington for “an urgent bladder problem,” Pat Ryder said. , adding that the minister was still receiving treatment and that the White House and Congress had been informed.
During a press conference on February 1, the Secretary of Defense, 70, apologized for having kept his cancer a secret, a matter which caused an uproar in the country. Because in the middle of an election year and while the United States, the world’s leading military power, is closely following two major conflicts in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip, the septuagenarian was operated on and hospitalized twice in December and January without the President Joe Biden knows nothing about it.
“It was a mistake,” the minister admitted during this press briefing to which he presented himself with a still stiff approach. “I should have informed the president of my cancer diagnosis. I should have told my team and the American people as well and I take full responsibility for that. I apologize to my colleagues and to the American people,” he added.
The minister, however, wanted to say “very clearly that there was no vacancy of power and (that there was) no risk for the command and control of the ministry”. He indicated that he had “directly” apologized to Joe Biden and that the latter had reacted “with grace”. The affair had caused astonishment even in the Democratic camp and sparked calls from Republicans for the resignation of Lloyd Austin.
A tense international context
This time, his ministry promptly communicated about his new hospitalization: the media were informed about two hours after his departure for the hospital. The controversy over his health problems also came at a time when US forces in Iraq and Syria are regularly targeted by attacks by Iranian-backed fighters, according to Washington.
The top US defense official is also a key figure in the Biden administration’s efforts to maintain support for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, as congressional Republicans refuse to authorize new funding for military aid to Kiev. Several Republican parliamentarians called for his dismissal, but Joe Biden, while deploring the lack of discernment of the head of the Pentagon, declared that he retained his confidence in him.
Lloyd Austin gained a reputation as a largely apolitical public servant, very comfortable with American troops. Of imposing stature, he is very discreet and avoids the limelight, which he believes played a role in his decision to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret.