‘Could Have Done A Better Job’: Lloyd Austin Addresses Lack Of Transparency Surrounding Hospitalization 

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin acknowledged he could have better informed the public about his nearly five-day hospital stay, during which time the White House and Congress were mostly kept in the dark, in a statement on Saturday.

The Pentagon revealed Friday night that Austin was admitted to Walter Reed hospital on Monday following unspecified complications that arose from an elective medical procedure. He was recovering on Saturday when White House National Security Council (NSC) officials said they were not notified of Austin’s hospitalization until Thursday, while Congress and most of the Department of Defense (DOD) leadership did not know until Friday.

“I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better,” Austin said in the statement on Saturday.

“But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure,” he added. (RELATED: US Soldier Still In Coma After Christmas-Day Drone Attack Left Shrapnel Lodged In His Brain)

It remains unclear exactly what triggered Austin’s emergency hospital stay, the nature of his elective procedure or to what degree Austin was aware of ongoing events. It’s also unclear whether Austin’s office intended to maintain a blackout on communication over the events.

The Pentagon’s secrecy over the ordeal sparked confusion and outrage among DOD officials, legislators and reporters over the Pentagon’s lack of transparency as conflict rages in the Middle East, Politico reported. President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, was not made aware of Austin’s absence from the Pentagon until Thursday.

Austin was in the hospital’s intensive care unit for four days, NBC News reported, citing two administration officials. He remained in the hospital on Saturday.

“At all times, the Deputy Secretary of Defense was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the Secretary, if required,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in the Friday statement.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks was reportedly on previously-scheduled leave in Puerto Rico when Austin’s emergency occurred, a defense official told NBC News.

The Pentagon’s second-in-command “has maintained full communication with the DoD staff throughout and “monitored DOD’s day-to-day operations and conducted some routine business,” the official said.

Austin said he expected to recover and looked forward to returning to the Pentagon “soon.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. conducted a targeted retaliatory airstrike on a militia commander in eastern Baghdad in response to a spate of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria early Thursday morning local time. Iraq’s prime minister on Friday threatened to oust all forces assigned to a U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State in the country following the airstrike.

On Saturday, the guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon shot down a one-way attack drone fired by the Iran-backed Houthis “in self-defense,” U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said. The Houthis have attacked commercial vessels and sent drones near U.S. warships dozens of times.

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