US Defence Secretary Austin cancels travel for NATO meeting after hospitalisation; to resume duty from Tuesday

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The United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has cancelled his trip to Brussels where he was supposed to participate in meetings with his counterparts from other NATO nations, a US official told Reuters, on Monday (Feb 12). This comes after Austin was admitted to a critical care unit at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center due to an “emergent bladder issue” and transferred his duties to his deputy.

Austin cancels trip to Brussels

On Sunday, the 70-year-old was taken to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for “symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue,” said the Pentagon, in a statement. 

Unlike the previous hospitalisations that were kept secret, this time around, Deputy Secretary of Defence Kathleen Hicks, joint chiefs of staff, the White House and Congress had already been notified. 

WATCH | US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalised again with bladder issue

The Pentagon chief was set to depart for the meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels taking place on Thursday (Feb 15) and a separate meeting with allies a day prior to discuss the Ukraine war and how to continue supporting Kyiv in countering Russia’s invasion. 

However, Reuters citing a US official said that the meeting on Ukraine’s defence needs, known as the Ukraine contact group, would be held virtually. 

Austin will be back on duty on Tuesday: Doctors

On Monday, Austin’s doctors, as per AFP said that the US defence secretary “underwent non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia,” for bladder issues as he battles prostate cancer and a “prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated.” 

“We anticipate the Secretary will be able to resume his normal duties tomorrow,” said the doctors, in a statement. They added his cancer prognosis remained excellent.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby, on Monday, said that President Joe Biden has no concerns about whether Austin can serve after his latest hospitalisation. 

Austin’s secret hospitalisation

The US defence secretary vanished from the public eye in December and early January 2024, after a prostate cancer surgery and subsequent hospitalisation to deal with its complications. 

However, Austin, at the time, did not inform anyone including Biden, the White House, the Pentagon or even Congress, about his hospitalisation which sparked a political uproar, where Republicans accused him of dereliction of his duty as the defence secretary. 

Earlier this month, Austin issued an apology for failing to tell Biden and senior staff about his cancer diagnosis, adding that it was a “gut punch” that had shaken him. The US president said that he had confidence in his defence secretary despite what Biden called a lapse in judgement. 

Austin is scheduled to testify before Congress on February 29 about the secrecy surrounding his hospitalisation in December and January. 

(With inputs from agencies)

 

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