Washington: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has cancelled his trip to Brussels to meet with NATO ministers and work on Ukraine military aid as he remains hospitalised while dealing with further health issues following prostate cancer surgery, the Pentagon said on Monday. Austin (70) was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday afternoon to address bladder issues and admitted to the intensive care unit.
It was his second hospitalisation this year in Walter Reed’s ICU following the surgery in December.
He underwent nonsurgical procedures on Monday under general anaesthesia to address the bladder issue, his doctors said in a statement released by the Pentagon. “We anticipate a successful recovery and will closely monitor him overnight,” the statement said. A prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated.” Austin had been scheduled to travel to Brussels on Tuesday to attend a regular meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, a gathering of about 50 countries to coordinate military aid for Kyiv. That meeting will now be held virtually, the Pentagon press secretary, Maj Gen Pat Ryder, said.
WATCH: Pentagon press secretary, Maj Gen Pat Ryder, briefing about Austin’s health condition
Austin is planning to attend that virtual meeting, but if his condition prevents him from participating he will be represented by Celeste Wallander, the assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Monday he did not know if President Joe Biden had spoken directly to Austin since he was hospitalised but that the president still had confidence in his ability to serve.
Austin secret health treatment row
The Pentagon’s handling of Austin’s latest hospitalisation is in marked contrast to how it handled his initial December diagnosis and treatment, which Austin and a few select members of his staff kept secret from almost everyone, including Biden. Austin has since apologised. The decisions around not sharing that information with the president or the public remain under review by the Pentagon’s inspector general. A separate internal review by the Defense Department has been completed but has not been made public yet.
It was not immediately clear if this bladder issue was a result of his prostate cancer treatment or a new health concern. In their statement, Austin’s doctors said it is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery, and that Austin’s “cancer prognosis remains excellent”.
Austin transferred his authorities to Deputy Defence Secretary Kathleen Hicks on Sunday. Following the Ukraine meeting, he was to attend a regular meeting of NATO defence ministers, also in Brussels. The US ambassador to NATO, Julie Smith, will represent Austin at that meeting on Thursday, Ryder said.
(With inputs from agency)
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