US: Austin cancels NATO trip amid hospitalization

US: Austin cancels NATO trip amid hospitalization

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin canceled a trip to Brussels where he was scheduled to attend NATO defense talks, after his hospitalization over the weekend, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

Austin was admitted on Sunday to Walter Reed Military Medical Center, his second hospitalization this year. His doctors said he was suffering from "symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue."

Austin was scheduled to depart Tuesday for Brussels to hold a meeting of the Ukraine contact group, which was established in 2022 to coordinate military support for Kyiv after Russia's full-scale invasion. The Pentagon said the meeting would now be held virtually.

What do we know about Austin's latest hospitalization?

The 70-year-old Austin "underwent non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia," his doctors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center said in a statement.

"We anticipate a successful recovery and will closely monitor him overnight," the Pentagon said. "A prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated."

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that President Joe Biden had no concerns regarding Austin's ability to serve after his latest hospitalization.

He nevertheless added that he did not know whether the two had directly spoken. 

Austin stirred much controversy last month, when he initially failed to disclose his cancer diagnosis.

Austin's hospitalization in December

Austin virtually disappeared from public view in late December and early January after suffering complications from treatment for prostate surgery on December 22, initially concealing his hospitalization from President Biden and the rest of the administration.

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

"I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis," he told journalists on February 1.

Several Republican lawmakers have previously called for Austin's ouster, but Biden, while describing the Pentagon chief's actions as a lapse in judgment, has said he remains confident in his defense secretary.

rmt/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)