US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is in hospital due to an urgent bladder problem,and has handed over his duties to his deputy, the Pentagon announced.
Mr Austin, who is 70 years old, is receiving intensive care at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. It is still unknown how long he will stay in hospital.
The Pentagon issued a statement on Sunday afternoon, saying that Mr Austin had gone to Walter Reed for treatment and that the White House and top defence officials had been informed.
A few hours later, at around 16:55 local time (21:55 GMT), the Pentagon issued another statement, saying that Mr Austin had given his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, the authority and responsibility of his office.
The hospital later reported that, after some tests, the secretary had been moved to the intensive care unit “for close monitoring and supportive care”.His doctors said that his bladder problem would not affect his “expected full recovery” from his prostate cancer, which was diagnosed in December. “His cancer outlook is excellent.”
Mr Austin was planning to travel to Brussels this week for a meeting on Wednesday about the ongoing war in Ukraine. It is unclear if his hospitalisation will interfere with his plans.
Mr Austin had surgery as part of his cancer treatment late last year.He went back to hospital on New Year’s Day with severe pain in his leg, hip and abdomen due to complications from the surgery. He was found to have a urinary tract infection and stayed in hospital for more than two weeks.
The Biden administration and senior defence officials were unaware of Mr Austin’s serious condition until three days after he was readmitted in January.Mr Austin said at a press conference last week that he had not instructed his staff to conceal his hospital visits from the White House or the public, but he did not answer questions about whether his staff had acted without his orders.
The defence secretary apologised for not giving proper notice and said he had personally said sorry to President Joe Biden.
Mr Austin, a former four-star general, became the first African-American defence secretary in 2020.The defence secretary is second only to the president in the command of the US military, and is one of the most vital members of the cabinet.
The incident raised concerns about both security and transparency and led to three investigations into Mr Austin’s management of his illness and hospital stays. Some prominent Republicans demanded that Mr Austin be removed from his position.
President Biden supported Mr Austin, saying he trusted his secretary’s leadership, but he also said that it was “less than ideal” that he had not disclosed his serious illness.
Mr Austin is expected to testify before Congress at the end of this month about his failure to notify government leaders.