US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized; ICU stay; President Biden Uninformed!

Lloyd Austin, the US Defense Secretary and the second-in-command in the American military, has been in the hospital for nearly four days, starting last Monday. Surprisingly, the Pentagon didn’t share this information with Congress, the National Security Council, or even President Joe Biden until Thursday, as disclosed over the weekend.

The president remained unaware of Austin’s hospitalization until Thursday when Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, conveyed the information, as reported by CNN.

Being 70 years old, Austin is mandated to be ready for immediate response to any national security crisis. During his hospitalization, he delegated some of his responsibilities to Kathleen Hicks, his deputy, who happened to be on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time. Austin resumed his full duties on Friday, as per CNN’s account.

On Saturday, the Defense Secretary issued a statement, acknowledging “full responsibility” for the lack of transparency regarding his hospitalization. He attributed his time at Walter Reed to “complications following a recent elective medical procedure.” However, neither Austin nor the Pentagon has furnished additional information about his medical condition, leaving details such as whether he lost consciousness or the expected release date undisclosed.

In a statement, Austin expressed awareness that he could have been more effective in assuring the public about being adequately informed. He pledged to improve, saying, “I commit to do better.”

The statement followed criticism from the Pentagon Press Association, which represents journalists covering the Defense Department in Washington. According to Politico, reporters were only notified about Austin’s hospitalization on Friday evening, approximately 15 minutes after Members of Congress were informed.

In response to this, the group issued a statement on Friday expressing concern about the secrecy surrounding Austin’s status. The Military Reporters and Editors (MRE), a non-profit organization for journalists covering the US military, criticized the decision to release the information on a Friday evening when online readership is usually lower, stating that it aligns with the unfortunate traditions of concealment and lack of transparency.

Despite significant events unfolding in the Middle East, the Pentagon projected a sense of routine.

While the Pentagon didn’t specify if any substantial security decisions were made without Austin’s input, the week of his hospitalization witnessed notable global developments, particularly in the Middle East. Austin’s hospitalization occurred on January 1, and he remained publicly silent until releasing a statement on Saturday.

Meanwhile, in recent events, the Hamas commander Saleh al-Arouri was assassinated in Lebanon, and ISIS carried out a terrorist attack in Iran, claiming the lives of over a hundred people at a memorial for the late Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani was considered an enemy of ISIS until his death in a U.S. airstrike in January 2020.

In response to the killing of the Hamas commander, Hezbollah launched a barrage of rockets at Israel’s northern region on Saturday. They asserted it was retaliation and claimed to have hit an Israeli air force base in Meron. In retaliation, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) targeted several Hezbollah sites, including a compound used by the organization’s surface-to-air missile unit later that day.

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