Pentagon launches investigation into controversial hospitalizations of its chief

(Washington) The US Department of Defense will launch an independent investigation into two long-secret hospitalizations of Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin, who is suffering from prostate cancer, according to an internal memo released Thursday.

“The objective of this review is to study the roles, processes, procedures, responsibilities and actions related to hospitalizations of the Department of Defense between December 2023 and January 2024,” it is specified in the text.

Lloyd Austin, 70, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December. He was operated on on December 22, under general anesthesia, then hospitalized again from December 1er January due to complications.

This diagnosis dates back to more than a month ago and these two hospitalizations were only communicated to the country’s high authorities, starting with Democratic President Joe Biden, in recent days, which caused an outcry in the press. and among the Republicans, in the middle of an election year.

The Pentagon’s investigation, which will be led by an independent inspector general, is also expected to assess whether current procedures within the Defense Department are “sufficient to ensure appropriate, timely notifications and effective transfer of authority in the event of illness.” or unavailability of senior officials,” according to the internal memo.

The controversy, very embarrassing for the head of state, comes at a time when the world’s leading military power is involved in several major conflicts, from Ukraine to the Middle East.

Supporting Kyiv against Russia, Israel against Palestinian Hamas, Washington, whose forces are regularly the target of attacks in Iraq and Syria, also seeks to mobilize its international partners against the Houthi rebels of Yemen, who threaten maritime transport in Red Sea.

Review at the White House

In this context, the White House conceded that the unpublicized hospitalizations of one of the country’s highest military officials were not an “ideal” situation.

If the president maintained his “confidence” in his secretary, according to his spokesperson, the White House also ordered a review of the rules applicable in the event of incapacity of senior officials.

Republicans have called for Lloyd Austin’s departure, including former President Donald Trump, Joe Biden’s likely rival in the next November election.

Several Democrats also expressed discomfort with the situation, but only one of them demanded that the secretary leave office.

Joe Biden has always been reluctant to dismiss senior officials, in order to avoid the reshuffles and repeated crises of the Trump era.

Joe Biden notably clung to his national security adviser Jake Sullivan despite the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, with the capture of Kabul by the Taliban.

While Lloyd Austin is still hospitalized, he remains in contact with his teams and is kept informed of operations, according to the Pentagon.

After the hospitalization of 1er January, his deputy Kathleen Hicks assumed her duties for a few days, making “routine” decisions.


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