Disclosure comes as Pentagon faces public backlash over its secrecy about US defense secretary’s hospitalisation.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalised since January 1 with a urinary tract infection after a December surgical procedure to treat prostate cancer, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center says.
The disclosure on Tuesday came after nearly a week of public backlash directed at the Pentagon over its secrecy about the hospitalisation with President Joe Biden and Austin’s own deputy kept in the dark for days.
Once the Pentagon did disclose on Friday that Austin was in the hospital, it declined to say why he was there or offer details about his medical prognosis.
The 70-year-old was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on December 22 and underwent surgery to treat the cancer, doctors said. Austin later developed the infection and was rehospitalised.
Senior White House and defence officials were not told for days about his hospitalisation or the cancer.
Doctors said the cancer was detected when Austin had a regular screening in early December. They said he “underwent a minimally invasive surgical procedure” and went home the next day. But on January 1, he reported nausea and severe abdominal, hip and leg pain due to the infection.
They said his prostate cancer was detected early, and his prognosis is excellent.
The announcement came after days of questions about why Austin had been hospitalised and why Biden and other top officials hadn’t been informed immediately.
Austin sits just below Biden at the top of the chain of command of the US military, the most powerful in the world. His duties require him to be available at a moment’s notice to respond to any national security crisis.
Some Republican lawmakers have said Austin should be removed from his job.
But the Pentagon said the retired four-star general had no plans to resign, and the White House said Biden, a Democrat, was not seeking to remove him. Austin remains at Walter Reed.
“The secretary continues to remain focused on recovering but, more importantly, on carrying out his duties as secretary of defense and defending the nation,” Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder said at a news briefing.