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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumed his duties at the Pentagon on Monday, following his recovery from a hospitalization that began earlier this month.
The Defense Department confirmed Austin’s return in a statement, noting he had been working from home since his discharge from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on January 15. His first day back included an in-person meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
During the meeting with Stoltenberg, Austin addressed the recent drone strike at the Tower 22 base in Jordan, which resulted in the deaths of three U.S. service members and injuries to another two dozen. The attack occurred near the southeastern border with Syria.
Austin expressed his sorrow and outrage at the incident, stating, “The president and I will not tolerate attacks on U.S. forces and we will take all necessary actions to defend the U.S. and our troops.” He also mentioned his recovery, noting that he feels good but is still recuperating.
Stoltenberg conveyed his condolences for the troops killed and wounded in the attack, which President Biden attributed to “radical Iran-backed militant groups.” He spoke about Iran’s role in destabilizing the region, including backing terrorists attacking ships in the Red Sea, and emphasized the U.S. leadership in countering these threats.
More on the Austin’s hospitalization:
Austin’s hospitalization, which began on January 1 due to complications from a December 22 surgery for prostate cancer, stirred controversy. The delay in notifying the White House and Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks of his hospitalization until January 4 raised concerns in Congress. Additionally, Austin’s prostate cancer diagnosis, discovered in early December but not disclosed until January 9, was unknown to the White House until publicly announced.
These communication issues have prompted a 30-day internal Pentagon review of the policies and procedures for notifying officials of a transition of authorities. Furthermore, the DOD inspector general has opened an investigation into the matter, and the White House has initiated a review of protocols for how Cabinet officials delegate authority.