Washington— Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized since Monday due to complications from a routine elective operation, Pentagon press secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Friday. This was the department's first confirmation that Austin had been admitted to Walter Reed five days ago.
It's unclear when Austin will be released from the hospital, but Ryder said Friday that the secretary is “recovering well” and expects “to resume his full duties” Friday.
The Pentagon did not reveal Austin's illness, unlike other senior U.S. and Cabinet officials, including the president. Ryder and Chris Meagher, the assistant defense secretary for public relations, received a protest letter from the Pentagon Press Association.
The PPA said that the Pentagon's late Friday evening announcement that he has been at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for four days is outrageous.
At a time when there are growing threats to U.S. military service members in the Middle East and the U.S. is playing key national security roles in the wars in Israel and Ukraine, it is particularly critical for the American public to be informed about its top defense leader's health status and decision-making
Iranian-backed militias have launched drones, missiles, and rockets at U.S. outposts in Iraq and Syria, leading the Biden administration to respond many times. Austin and other top military officers regularly debate and decide on the strikes.
The U.S. is also leading a new multinational maritime coalition that will monitor the southern Red Sea with ships and other assets to dissuade Houthi terrorist attacks on commercial boats in Yemen.
The Biden administration, notably Austin, has led the effort to assist Ukraine with arms and training and spoke extensively with Israel on their campaign against Hamas.
Ryder called this a “evolving situation,” and the agency did not disclose Austin's absence due to privacy and medical concerns. He wouldn't say more regarding Austin's surgery or health.
Ryder stated that Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks “was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the Secretary, if required.” Austin, 70, retired as a four-star Army general in 2016 after 41 years.