Jawad Iqbal Jawad Iqbal

What’s the truth about the US defence secretary’s mystery illness?

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin (Credit: Getty images)

Questions are growing over who knew what, and when, about the hospitalisation of the American Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, the most senior official in the chain of command between the president and the military. Austin was taken to hospital on New Year’s Day but the news was kept secret. Astonishingly, even president Joe Biden does not appear to have been told that Austin was unwell until last Thursday, four days after his admission to the Walter Reed National Medical Center in Maryland. Key figures in the Pentagon and members of Congress were also kept in the dark, and only informed on Friday. There have even been claims that senior members of his staff were under the impression that he was on vacation.

Even now, no details of Austin’s medical problem have been made public, nor has anything been said about whether he was incapacitated at any point during his hospital stay. The Pentagon press secretary, Major General Pat Ryder, confirmed that Austin suffered ‘complications following a recent directive medical procedure’ but did not elaborate. It has also emerged that his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, was on holiday in Puerto Rico at the time but officials stressed that she was able to cover for him as and when required. It is unclear how much was disclosed to her about the overall situation.

Is Austin really attempting to suggest that his medical treatment is entirely his own business?

This is not exactly reassuring. Austin is second only to Biden at the top of the chain of military command, and his duties and responsibilities require him to be on hand at all times. The timing of his medical problems could not be worse, with tensions running high in the Middle East and growing fears that Israel’s war with Hamas could escalate into a wider regional conflagration.

Austin is said to be recovering well in hospital and has now apparently resumed work.

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