The U.S. on Thursday launched the most significant strikes against Iranian-backed proxies in the Middle East since President Joe Biden took office — and it did it all the while the nation’s top military leader was in a hospital bed.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gave the order to strike the Houthis in Yemen from the hospital on Thursday, using a “full suite of secure communication.”
Administration officials explained that Austin has been involved with planning the attack since Jan. 1 — the day he was admitted to the hospital with complications from a prostatectomy. He authorized the final decision for U.S. forces to move forward with the attack on more than 60 Houthi targets and monitored the operation in real-time.
Austin engaged in a January 9 meeting with chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Charles Brown, and head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, spoke twice with Biden, and had calls with the National Security Council to discuss options and execution of the strikes.
“He was involved in all the discussions and meetings yesterday and was completely engaged in the planning,” one anonymous official said.
Biden approved the strike options, and instructed Austin to order Central Command to carry out the mission.
The strikes on the Iran-proxy Houthi rebels came after repeated warnings from the U.S. and the U.K. about the attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea. The most brazen attack on commercial shipping came from 20 drones and ballistic missiles in the busy waterway, with all of them intercepted by U.S. and British warships.
Senior White House officials were hopeful that the strikes proved the chain of command was still functional despite Austin’s hospitalization at Walter Reed. There is no public timetable for his release at this time.