US defence secretary in hospital, scraps plans to attend Nato meet

WASHINGTON: US defence secretary Lloyd Austin has cancelled a trip to Brussels where he was set to take part in meetings with Nato defence ministers, a US official said Monday, after the Pentagon chief was admitted to a critical care unit and had to transfer his duties to his deputy.
Austin, 70, was taken to Walter Reed Military Medical Center on Sunday for “symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue”. Austin had failed to disclose a prostate cancer surgery in Dec and a subsequent hospitalisation in Jan to deal with its complications. Austin was set to depart for the Nato meeting of defence ministers in Brussels taking place on Thursday.
It was unclear how long Austin would remain in the hospital, but he has transferred his duties to deputy secretary of defence Kathleen Hicks. Austin’s secrecy during his hospitalisations in Dec and Jan had triggered a political uproar. Republicans accused him of dereliction of duty. President Biden, a Democrat, has said he has confidence in Austin despite what the president agreed was a lapse in judgment.

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