A Day After His Latest Hospital Release, Austin Presses for Urgent Military Aid for Ukraine

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during the National Anthem during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — A day after his latest hospital stay for health issues following treatment for prostate cancer, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hosted a virtual session on Ukraine to help resource urgently needed ammunition and artillery for Kyiv as it faces shortages in its now almost two-year war with Russia.

In his opening remarks to the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a regular gathering of about 50 member countries that coordinate military support for Ukraine, Austin said Wednesday he’d intended to be with the group in person, “but I had to return to the hospital for non-surgical procedures."

“I’m in good condition, and my cancer prognosis remains excellent," he said.

Austin conducted the virtual session from his home, where he is still recovering from complications from his December surgery to treat prostate cancer. Austin was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Monday after being treated for a bladder issue.

The Pentagon has been out of funds to send weapons and ammunition to Ukraine since December. Since then European allies have continued to send some support but the loss of regular shipments of ammunition to Ukraine is having an impact.

Austin said in his opening remarks that the contact group would work Wednesday on resourcing some of Ukraine’s most critical near-term needs, “including its urgent need for more artillery, ammunition and air defense missiles.”

It's not clear if, or when, Congress will come to an agreement that would give the Pentagon additional funds to restart regular shipments of ammunition to Ukraine’s front lines.

The Senate passed its latest version of a multibillion-dollar war funding package early Tuesday with some Republican senator support, stripping out controversial border security language that has been a sticking point for conservative members in hopes that the pared-down bill could gain Republican support in the House.

But House Speaker Mike Johnson has already indicated that it could be weeks or months before Congress sends the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk — if at all.

The Pentagon has argued that the Ukraine and Israel funding package is also good for the U.S. economy. The war spending has pumped billions into the economy as the military ramps up domestic production of ammunition and weapons systems in order to replenish its own stockpiles.

The $95.3 billion legislation includes $60 billion for Ukraine; $14 billion for Israel’s war with Hamas, $8 billion for Taiwan and partners in the Indo-Pacific to counter China, and $9.1 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine, and other populations caught in conflict zones across the globe.

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