Biden was not aware ‘for days’ defence secretary Austin was hospitalised

President Joe Biden’s defence chief Lloyd Austin is facing questions over transparency with the news that the president of the United States had been kept in the dark about his hospitalisation for three days.

NBC News and Politico first reported the revelation on Saturday evening, citing senior officials in the Biden administration. The news added a new level of seriousness to the issue of America’s defence chief being hospitalised for days without informing the general public. Those same senior officials who alerted the press were described as alarmed by the delay between Mr Austin’s hospitalisation and the president being made aware.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan was reportedly the first official in the West Wing to be told of Mr Austin’s hospitalisation, on Thursday, and promptly alerted the president at that time.

The secretary’s hospitalisation came after complications from an elective surgery, according to the Pentagon. Further details have been sparse, and the DC press corps has in return been asking increasingly pointed questions about the supposed need for secrecy around the issue and the failure of the Pentagon to communicate with Americans.

“This should not have happened this way,” one senior Biden administration official told Politico.

Another told Politico’s Playbook newsletter: “It’s just stupid...Just pick up the phone. What are you thinking?”

The White House has not yet commented on the matter of Mr Austin’s apparent failure to notify the president in a timely fashion of his leave from duties, which were taken over by a deputy in his absence. White House officials did welcome Mr Austin back to work in statements provided to news outlets.

“The President wished him the best in his recovery and said he looks forward to seeing the Secretary back at the Pentagon soon,” one official said.

Mr Austin’s absence — and the apparent cascading failure of transparency that followed — comes at a very serious moment for the president and the United States in the arena of national defence and the use of America’s military strength.

Since his hospitalisation on 1 January, the US has conducted a much-criticised strike at the president’s authorisation against a militia leader in Iraq’s capital of Baghdad whom the US alleged was connected to Iran and the country’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). The attack earned a denunciation from Iraq’s goverment, put in place by the United States and its coalition allies after the deposing of Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, the US also continues to work towards securing the Red Sea from Houthi attacks on shipping lanes, one of many consequences in the region linked to the brutal Israeli military campaign against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Mr Austin appeared to acknowledge that he should have notified the public sooner in a statement to news outlets; however, he too has remained silent on why Mr Biden was kept unaware of his condition for three days.

"I am very glad to be on the mend and look forward to returning to the Pentagon soon. I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better. But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure,” he said.