WASHONGTON: US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who is fighting prostate cancer, transferred his duties to his deputy hours after he was taken to hospital for “an emergent bladder issue”, a spokesman said on Sunday (Feb 12).

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks “assumed the functions and duties” just before 5pm, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said in a statement, adding that Austin was still receiving treatment and that the White House and Congress had been informed.

The announcement came weeks after it emerged that Austin, 70, had kept previous hospital stays secret and had not immediately informed US President Joe Biden of his cancer diagnosis, sparking criticism as the United States faces crises in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Austin effectively vanished from the public eye for treatment for prostate cancer in December and again in January after suffering complications from the procedure.

This time, the public was alerted around two hours after he was sent to the hospital on Sunday afternoon.

Austin “was transported by his security detail to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center”, Ryder said in an earlier statement.

“The Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been notified. Additionally, White House and Congressional notifications have occurred.”

Initially Ryder noted that the defense chief brought along classified communications systems and would be retaining “the functions and duties of his office”.

The announcement that Hicks would instead be taking over came just a few hours later, however. Ryder said the Pentagon would give more updates as soon as possible.

After coming under heavy political fire for keeping the previous hospital stays secret, Austin apologised earlier this month.

“I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis,” he told journalists on Feb 1.


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