A Pentagon mystery: Why was US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospital stay kept secret for days?

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin gives a joint press conference with Israel's defence minister, in Tel Aviv on December 18, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 06 January 2024
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A Pentagon mystery: Why was US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospital stay kept secret for days?

  • Austin, 70, remained hospitalized due to complications following a minor elective medical procedure, his press secretary said, as it became clear how closely the Pentagon held information about his stay at Walter Reed
  • Austin’s hospitalization comes as Iranian-backed militias have repeatedly launched drones, missiles and rockets at bases where US troops are stationed in Iraq and Syria, leading the Biden administration to strike back on a number of occasions

WASHINGTON: Members of Congress and Pentagon leaders were unaware for days that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had been hospitalized since Monday, US officials said Saturday, as questions swirled about his condition and the secrecy surrounding it.
And it remained unclear when the White House and other key US officials were told about his stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
The Pentagon’s failure to disclose Austin’s hospitalization for days reflects a stunning lack of transparency about his illness, how serious it was and when he may be released. Such secrecy, at a time when the United States is juggling myriad national security crises, runs counter to normal practice with the president and other senior US officials and Cabinet members.
Austin, 70, remained hospitalized due to complications following a minor elective medical procedure, his press secretary said, as it became clear how closely the Pentagon held information about his stay at Walter Reed.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were notified about Austin’s hospitalization, but he would not say when that happened.
A number of US officials said Saturday that many of the most senior Pentagon service leaders were unaware until Friday that Austin was in the hospital. Officials said President Joe Biden and other senior White House staff were told, but the officials would not specify when. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Ryder said members of Congress were told late Friday afternoon, and other officials said lawmakers were informed after 5 p.m. It was not clear when key senior members of Austin’s staff were told, but across the Pentagon, many staff found out when the department released a statement about Austin’s hospital stay just minutes after 5 p.m. Many believed Austin was out on vacation for the week.
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who took over when Austin was hospitalized, was also away. A US official said she had a communications setup with her in Puerto Rico that allowed her to do the job while Austin, who spent 41 years in the military and retired as a four-star Army general in 2016, was incapacitated.
Ryder said Saturday that Austin is recovering well and resumed his full duties Friday evening from his hospital bed. Asked why the hospital stay was kept secret for so long, Ryder said on Friday that it was an “evolving situation,” and that due to privacy and medical issues, the Pentagon did not make Austin’s absence public. Ryder declined to provide any other details about Austin’s medical procedure or health.
The White House has refused to say when or how it had been notified of Austin’s hospitalization. It referred questions to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon Press Association, which represents media members who cover the Defense Department, sent a letter of protest on Friday evening to Ryder and Chris Meagher, the assistant defense secretary for public affairs.
“The fact that he has been at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for four days and the Pentagon is only now alerting the public late on a Friday evening is an outrage,” the PPA said in its letter. “At a time when there are growing threats to US military service members in the Middle East and the US is playing key national security roles in the wars in Israel and Ukraine, it is particularly critical for the American public to be informed about the health status and decision-making ability of its top defense leader.”
Other senior US leaders have been much more transparent about hospital stays. When Attorney General Merrick Garland went in for a routine medical procedure in 2022, his office informed the public a week in advance and outlined how long he was expected to be out and when he would return to work.
Austin’s hospitalization comes as Iranian-backed militias have repeatedly launched drones, missiles and rockets at bases where US troops are stationed in Iraq and Syria, leading the Biden administration to strike back on a number of occasions. Those strikes often involve sensitive, top-level discussions and decisions by Austin and other key military leaders.
The US is also the chief organizer behind a new international maritime coalition using ships and other assets to patrol the southern Red Sea to deter persistent attacks on commercial vessels by Houthi militants in Yemen.
In addition, the administration, particularly Austin, has been at the forefront of the effort to supply weapons and training to Ukraine, and he’s also been communicating frequently with the Israelis on their war against Hamas.
 

 


Indian soldiers kill two suspected militants in Kashmir

Updated 6 sec ago
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Indian soldiers kill two suspected militants in Kashmir

  • Kashmir has seen a string of battles between insurgents and Indian security forces in the past two months
  • Five Indian security personnel were killed on Monday during a firefight with gunmen in Doda forest
SRINAGAR, India: Two suspected militants were killed in a firefight with soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir, the defense ministry said Friday, following a spate of attacks in the disputed territory.
The two men were killed on Thursday while trying to cross the de facto frontier that divides the Himalayan region between Pakistan and India.
Troops saw the pair crossing over from the Pakistani side through thick foliage, a defense spokesman said in a statement.
“The infiltrating terrorists were challenged, following which they opened fire leading to an intense firefight,” he said.
Kashmir, particularly its southern Hindu-majority region Jammu, has seen a string of battles between insurgents and Indian security forces in the past two months.
Five Indian security personnel were killed on Monday during a firefight with gunmen in Doda forest.
Last month, nine Indian Hindu pilgrims were killed and dozens more wounded when a gunman opened fire on a bus carrying them from a shrine in Reasi district.
Muslim-majority Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence from British rule in 1947, and each side claims it in full.
Rebel groups have waged an insurgency since 1989, demanding independence or merger with Pakistan, in fighting that has killed tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels.
New Delhi and Islamabad accuse each other of stoking militancy and espionage to undermine each other, and the nuclear-armed rivals have fought multiple conflicts for control of the region.

Major jets grounded over IT outage, affecting thousands of passengers

Updated 2 min 16 sec ago
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Major jets grounded over IT outage, affecting thousands of passengers

  • ‘Large-scale technical outage’ caused by an issue with a ‘third-party software platform’
  • Airport operator Aena also reported a computer systems ‘incident’ at all Spanish airports

WASHINGTON: Major US air carriers including Delta, United and American Airlines grounded all flights early on Friday over a communication issue, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“All... flights regardless of destination” were grounded due to the “communication issues,” the FAA said in a notice to airlines.

Three Indian airlines announced disruptions to their booking systems on Friday, matching widespread technical problems reported by flight operators around the world.

“Our systems are currently impacted by a Microsoft outage,” budget carrier IndiGo said in a post on social media platform X, with airlines Akasa Air and SpiceJet also reporting technical issues.

Passengers at Britain’s Edinburgh Airport were unable to use automated boarding pass scanners on Friday, and monitors at security displayed a message saying “server offline”, a Reuters witness reported.

Edinburgh Airport was checking boarding passes manually, the witness said.

A health booking system used by doctors in England was also offline, medical officials said on X on Friday.

Spanish airport operator Aena on Friday also reported a computer systems “incident” at all Spanish airports which may cause flight delays.

“We are working to solve it as soon as possible. Meanwhile, operations are continuing with manual systems,” the airport operator said in a post on X platform.

In Berlin, airport authorities have halted all flights until 10 a.m. (0800 GMT) due to a technical fault, a spokesperson said.

Earlier on Friday, airport operator BER said in a post on social media platform X that check-ins were delayed due to the error.

The spokesperson did not give details about the nature of the problem, which comes amid reports of technical outages affecting some companies around the globe.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, one of Europe’s busiest hubs, is being affected by a global cyber outage, a spokesperson said on Friday.

“The outage has an impact on flights flying from and to Schiphol,” he said, adding that it was not yet clear how many flights were affected.

A large-scale outage wrought havoc on IT systems across Australia on Friday, with the country’s national broadcaster, its largest international airport, and a major telecommunications company reporting issues.

Australia’s National Cyber Security Coordinator said the “large-scale technical outage” was caused by an issue with a “third-party software platform.”

National broadcaster ABC said its systems had been crippled by a “major” glitch.

Photos posted online showed large queues forming at Sydney Airport, which said some airline operations and terminal services had been affected.

Some self-checkout terminals at one of the country’s largest supermarket chains displayed error messages.

Telecommunications firm Telstra also said some of its systems had been disrupted.

Major companies report outage

Microsoft users worldwide, including banks and airlines, reported widespread outages on Friday, hours after the technology company said it was gradually fixing an issue affecting access to Microsoft 365 apps and services.

The cause, exact nature and scale of the outage was unclear. Microsoft appeared to suggest in its X posts that the situation was improving but escalating outages were still being reported around the world hours later.

The website DownDectector, which tracks user-reported Internet outages, recorded growing outages in services at Visa, ADT security and Amazon, and airlines including American Airlines and Delta.

Microsoft 365 posted on X that the company was “working on rerouting the impacted traffic to alternate systems to alleviate impact in a more expedient fashion” and that they were “observing a positive trend in service availability.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment. It did not explain the cause of the outage further.

Australian outages reported on the site included the banks NAB, Commonwealth and Bendigo, and the airlines Virgin Australia and Qantas, as well as Internet and phone providers such as Telstra.

News outlets in Australia — including the ABC and Sky News — were unable to broadcast on their TV and radio channels, and reported sudden shutdowns of Windows-based computers.

An X user posted a screenshot of an alert from the company Crowdstrike that said the company was aware of “reports of crashes on Windows hosts” related to its Falcon Sensor platform. The alert was posted on a password-protected Crowdstrike site and could not be verified. Crowdstrike did not respond to a request for comment.


Oil tankers on fire off Singapore, crew members rescued

Updated 19 July 2024
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Oil tankers on fire off Singapore, crew members rescued

  • Singapore is Asia’s biggest oil trading hub and the world’s largest bunkering port

SINGAPORE: Two large oil tankers were on fire in waters near Singapore, the authorities said on Friday, raising concerns about the environment as well as the impact on operations at the world’s biggest refueling port.
The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it was alerted to a fire on Friday at 6:15 a.m. (2215 GMT) onboard both a Singapore-flagged tanker, Hafnia Nile, and a Sao Tome and Principe-flagged tanker, Ceres I.
A helicopter had evacuated two crew members to Singapore General Hospital, it said, without elaborating.
In a statement on social media, Singapore Navy said the frigate RSS Supreme had rescued the crews from the vessels and was providing medical assistance. It did not immediately give details.
The vessels were about 55km (34 miles) northeast of the Singaporean island of Pedra Branca on the eastern approach to the Singapore Straits. Photographs released by the Navy showed thick black smoke billowing from one tanker.
The cause of the fires was not immediately clear.
The 74,000 deadweight-tons capacity Panamax tanker Hafnia Nile (IMO 9766217) was carrying about 300,000 barrels of naphtha, according to ship-tracking data from Kpler and LSEG.
It was not immediately clear what fuel Ceres I (IMO 9229439) was carrying. The tanker is a very-large-crude-carrier (VLCC) of 300,000 deadweight-tons capacity and was last marked as carrying Iranian crude between March to April, ship-tracking data showed.
Singapore is Asia’s biggest oil trading hub and the world’s largest bunkering port and surrounding waters are vital trade waterways between Asia and Europe and the Middle East.


US-bound Air India plane makes emergency landing in Russia

Updated 19 July 2024
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US-bound Air India plane makes emergency landing in Russia

  • The Boeing 777 aircraft, carrying 225 passengers and 19 flight crew, made a precautionary landing safely in the Russian region of Siberia at the Krasnoyarsk International Airport

NEW DELHI: An Air India airplane flying from Delhi to San Francisco made an emergency landing in Russia after the crew detected a potential issue in the cargo hold area, the airline said on Friday, its second such incident on the route in just over a year.
Many carriers, including US and European Union airlines, avoid Russian airspace following the war in Ukraine, but Air India uses that route, giving it a flying time and cost advantage on US-bound flights.
The Boeing 777 aircraft, carrying 225 passengers and 19 flight crew, made a precautionary landing safely in the Russian region of Siberia at the Krasnoyarsk International Airport, the airline said in a statement.
It added Air India was “concerned about the passengers and staff and are making every effort possible to operate the ferry flight as soon as possible.”
The airport said the flight’s crew had been moved to hotels, and passengers were in the international departure area, which angered some of those stranded, according to social media posts.
Mayank Gupta, whose mother was on the flight, wrote on X he was “sad and angry” that her medicines and luggage remained on the airplane.
A passenger said on X that people were struggling to get food and water, posting a photo showing some passengers sleeping on the floor inside the airport area.
In another statement on Friday, Air India said representatives from the Indian consulate in Moscow traveled to Krasnoyarsk overnight and “are working with Russian authorities to allow passengers to move to hotels, which have been on standby throughout the night.”
The airport said the plane landed due to an activated smoke detector. Regulatory clearances have been obtained for a relief flight that will depart Mumbai at 11 a.m. India time (0530 GMT) on Friday and ferry the guests out of the airport, Air India said.
Shortly after the incident, Russia’s civil aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, said the aircraft had taxied to a parking spot after landing and there had been no signs of a fire or smoke onboard.
Boeing and a spokesperson for the US State Department deferred to Air India for comment on the incident.
Russia banned many foreign carriers from its airspace in retaliation for Western sanctions over the Ukraine war, and many countries and airlines also banned their planes from crossing over all or part of Russia.
The bans have redrawn air routes and upset business models for some airlines that now need to fly around the world’s largest country. United Airlines canceled many of its non-stop US-India flights due to the issue.
In June 2023, an Air India Boeing plane on the same route was stranded for a day after reporting a technical issue. Passengers on that flight, including US citizens, were housed in makeshift accommodation at Russia’s remote Magadan airport.
Air India sent an aircraft a day later to pick up the stranded passengers.


Donald Trump vows to end wars, restore US power if elected again

Updated 54 min 58 sec ago
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Donald Trump vows to end wars, restore US power if elected again

  • The former president sought to paint a dire picture of the world under his successor Joe Biden

MILWAUKEE: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump promised Thursday to bring an end to raging international crises and restore American prestige on the world stage, saying he could “stop wars with a telephone call.”
The former president sought to paint a dire picture of the world under his successor Joe Biden, telling the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee that the planet is “teetering on the edge of World War III.”
“We will restore peace, stability and harmony all throughout the world,” Trump said, without giving any detail on how he might do that.
“Under our leadership the United States will be respected again. No nation will question our power, no enemy will doubt our might, our borders will be totally secure.”

 


Trump placed the blame for conflicts around the world squarely on Biden — even those with roots stretching back far before the Democrat took office.
“There is an international crisis the likes of which the world has seldom been part of... war is now raging in Europe, in the Middle East, a growing specter of conflict hangs over Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and all of Asia,” he said.
He vowed to change all that if he is elected to a second term in the White House.
“I will end every single international crisis that the current administration has created, including the horrible war with Russia and Ukraine,” Trump said. But “to achieve this future, we must first rescue our nation from failed and even incompetent leadership.”
He also said he wanted Americans held abroad to be released — or else.
“The entire world, I tell you this: we want our hostages back and they better be back before I assume office or you will be paying a very big price,” said Trump — again failing to give any specifics.
He pledged to build a version of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system for the United States, ignoring the fact that the system is designed for short-range threats and would be ill-suited to defending against intercontinental missiles that are the main danger to the country.
And he suggested that Kim Jong Un — the reclusive North Korean dictator whom he met in person during his presidency, and whose country possesses a nuclear arsenal — longed to see him back in the White House.
“I get along with him, he’d like to see me back too. I think he misses me, if you want to know,” Trump said.