Lloyd Austin
Official portrait, 2023
28th United States Secretary of Defense
Assumed office
January 22, 2021
PresidentJoe Biden
Deputy
Preceded byMark Esper
12th Commander of United States Central Command
In office
March 22, 2013 – March 30, 2016
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJim Mattis
Succeeded byJoseph Votel
33rd Vice Chief of Staff of the Army
In office
February 8, 2012 – March 8, 2013
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byPeter W. Chiarelli
Succeeded byJohn F. Campbell
40th Director of the Joint Staff
In office
August 9, 2009 – June 30, 2010
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byStanley A. McChrystal
Succeeded byWilliam E. Gortney
Personal details
Born
Lloyd James Austin III

(1953-08-08) August 8, 1953 (age 70)
Mobile, Alabama, U.S.
Spouse
Charlene Banner
(m. 1980)
Education
OccupationManufacturing executive, military general, politician
ProfessionArmy officer
Signature
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1975–2016
RankGeneral
Commands
Battles/wars
AwardsFull list

Lloyd James Austin III (born August 8, 1953) is an American politician and retired United States Army four-star general who is serving as the 28th United States secretary of defense since January 22, 2021. Before retiring from the military in 2016, Austin served as the 12th commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), beginning in March 2013.[1] Prior to that he served as the 33rd vice chief of staff of the Army from January 2012 to March 2013, and as commander of United States Forces – Iraq from September 2010 to December 2011. He is the first African American to hold each of these positions.[2] After retiring from the armed services Austin joined the boards of Raytheon Technologies, Nucor, Tenet Healthcare, and Auburn University.[3][4] On December 7, 2020, he was nominated for defense secretary by then-President-elect Joe Biden and was confirmed by the United States Senate on January 22, 2021, by a vote of 93–2.[5]

Austin holds the unique distinction of having commanded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan at the one-, two-, three- and four-star levels, and was the first African American to command a division, corps, and field army in combat. He is a recipient of the Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for valor, for his actions during the Iraq invasion, as well as five Defense Distinguished Service Medals.[6]

Early life and education

Austin was born on August 8, 1953, in Mobile, Alabama;[3] he was raised in Thomasville, Georgia.[7] He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1975.[8][9] While at the Academy, Austin played rugby and ran track.[10] He later earned a Master of Arts degree in counselor education from Auburn University's College of Education in 1986, and a Master of Business Administration in business management from Webster University in 1989. He is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced courses, the Army Command and General Staff College, and the Army War College.[9]

Military career

Colonel Lloyd Austin in 1998

In June 1975, Austin graduated from West Point and was commissioned in the Infantry as a second lieutenant.[9] He completed Airborne and Ranger schools prior to receiving his initial assignment in Germany with the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) as a rifle platoon leader and later as a scout platoon leader and company executive officer in 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry.[9][11]

Following this assignment and attendance at the Infantry Officer Advanced Course, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he commanded the Combat Support Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry and served as the Assistant S-3 (Operations) for 1st Brigade.[9] In 1981, Austin was assigned to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was the operations officer for the Army Indianapolis District Recruiting Command, and where he later commanded a company in the Army Recruiting Battalion. Upon conclusion of this assignment, he attended Auburn University, where he completed studies for a Master's in education. He then returned to the West Point as a company tactical officer.[9][12]

After completion of the Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, New York, where he served as the S-3 (Operations) and later executive officer for the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry. He subsequently served as Executive Officer for 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain, and later Director of Plans, Training, Mobilization, and Security for Fort Drum.[9]

In 1993, Austin returned to the 82nd Airborne Division where he commanded the 2d Battalion (Airborne), 505th Infantry.[13] He later served as G-3 for the 82nd.

Following graduation from Army War College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, he returned to the 82nd Airborne Division for a third tour of duty there to command 3rd Brigade.[9]

Austin in a meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Lieutenant General David Barno, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2003

Shortly after brigade command, he served as Chief, Joint Operations Division, J-3, on the Joint Staff at The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. His next assignment, in 2001, was as Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver (ADC-M), 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), Fort Stewart, Georgia. As the ADC-M, he helped lead the division's invasion of Iraq in March 2003.[9] Leading the fight from the front, Austin traveled the 500 miles from Kuwait to Baghdad in his command and control vehicle. The division reached Baghdad and secured the city.[14][15] Austin was awarded a Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for valor, for his actions as commander during the invasion.[16]

Commanding General of 10th Mtn Division (Light) and CJTF-180 – Afghanistan

Austin served from September 2003 until August 2005 as Commanding General of 10th Mountain Division, with duty as Commander, Combined Joint Task Force 180, during the War in Afghanistan. He was the first African American to serve as a U.S. Army division commander in combat.[15] He subsequently served as Chief of Staff of US Central Command at MacDill AFB, in Tampa, Florida, from September 2005 until October 2006.[9]

Commanding General of Multi-National Corps – Iraq

Austin during the Iraq War on September 11, 2007

On December 8, 2006, Austin was promoted to Lieutenant General and assumed command of XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.[17] In February 2008, Austin became the second highest ranking commander in Iraq, taking command of the Multi-National Corps – Iraq (MNC-I). As commander of MNC-I, he directed the operations of approximately 152,000 joint and coalition forces across all sectors of Iraq.[18] He was the first African American general officer to lead a corps-sized element in combat.[15] Austin assumed the mission during the period when the Surge forces were drawing down. He expertly oversaw the responsible transition of forces out of the country while ensuring that progress continued on the ground.[19]

Austin handed over command of XVIII Corps to become Director of the Joint Staff in August 2009.[9] This promotion came at the direction of Admiral Michael Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While Director, Austin was told by Mullen to increase the diversity of the Joint Staff. Austin credited the appointment as having jumpstarted his later career, saying: "People who might not have known Lloyd Austin began to know him."[7]

Commanding General of US Forces – Iraq

General Lloyd Austin, commander of United States Forces-Iraq with General James Mattis, commander of United States Central Command, during the United States Forces-Iraq end of mission ceremony on December 15, 2011. Both would later serve as Secretaries of Defense.

On September 1, 2010 at a ceremony at Al-Faw Palace in Baghdad, Austin was promoted to the rank of General, becoming the Army's 200th four-star general officer and the sixth African American in the U.S. Army to achieve the top rank.[20] He subsequently assumed the role of Commanding General (CG) of United States Forces – Iraq (USF-I), becoming the first African American in history to command an entire theater of war.[20] He was preceded in the role by General Ray Odierno.[21][22] As CG, USF-I, Austin was the senior military commander in charge of all US and remaining coalition forces in Iraq.[23] Their mission was to advise, train, assist, and equip the Iraqi Armed Forces and the security agencies part of the Ministry of the Interior. As commander, Austin requested an additional troop presence in Iraq from 14,000 to 18,000.[24]

Austin oversaw the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom and combat operations to Operation New Dawn and stability operations focused on advising, assisting, and training the ISF.[25] He was extensively involved in the internal U.S. discussions and then negotiations with the Iraqi Government leading up to the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement.[26] Opposing total U.S. withdrawal, Austin preferred that the U.S. maintain about 10,000 troops in Iraq after 2011 and he approved staff planning for up to 20,000 remaining troops.[27][28]

In the absence of a new Status of Forces Agreement, President Barack Obama made the decision to retrograde all U.S. forces out of Iraq by the end of 2011.[29] Austin oversaw the entire operation, concurrently planning and executing the orderly drawdown and redeployment of approximately 50,000 service members. The U.S. command in Iraq formally cased its colors on December 15, 2011, at a reduced-sized BIAP complex, and Austin's speech there cited his division's seizure of the airport over eight years beforehand.[30] Austin, along with other members of the USF-I staff, departed Iraq on December 18, 2011.[31]

Army Vice Chief of Staff

In December 2011, Austin was nominated to become Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army (VCSA).[32] He took office on January 31, 2012.[33] As VCSA, he managed the day-to-day administration of the Army's budget and headquarters staff. Under his direction, the Army took steps to reduce the incidence of suicide in the ranks.[34][35] He spearheaded the Army's efforts to increase awareness and improve treatment options for the "invisible wounds" of war, namely traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.[36]

United States Central Command

General Lloyd Austin with President Barack Obama at MacDill Air Force Base, September 17, 2014

Austin became the commander of CENTCOM on March 22, 2013, after being nominated by President Obama in late 2012.[37][38][39] Austin was preceded as CENTCOM Commander by General James Mattis, whom Austin would later succeed as Secretary of Defense. In this capacity, General Austin oversaw all United States troops deployed and major United States Military operations around the area of Middle-East and Central Asia and some parts of South Asia. The area of command consisted of 20 countries including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Egypt and Lebanon.[40]

He directed the activities of four service component commands, one subordinate unified command (U.S. Forces-Afghanistan/Resolute Support Mission), two major subordinate multi-service commands, and several temporary task forces actively engaged in military operations. Austin oversaw more than 150,000 American and coalition forces involved in operations throughout the region.

During his tenure, Austin routinely advised the President, the Secretary of Defense, and other national-level leadership on challenges afflicting the CENTCOM region, and directed U.S. and allied military response to multiple crises and operations. These included the explosive crisis and transition of power in Egypt (2013–14); the resurgence of Al Qaeda's affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula; the Huthi-led insurgency against the Hadi government and the civil war in Yemen; continued support for the operations in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and other extremist groups; malign activity by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Forces; and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.[41]

General Lloyd Austin with Lieutenant General Charles Q. Brown Jr. during the Air Forces Central Command change of command ceremony at Shaw Air Force Base, June 29, 2015.
General Austin in 2016

As commander, after ISIL seized control of Mosul in June 2014, Austin oversaw the development and execution of the military campaign plan to counter ISIL in Iraq and Syria.[42][43] As of October 2014, Austin argued that the U.S. military's primary focus in operations against ISIL should be Iraq, as opposed to Syria.[44] In 2015, Austin conceded in a Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing that a CENTCOM-developed U.S. program intended to train Syrians to combat ISIL had resulted in only a handful of fighters.[45][46] At the hearing, he faced particularly pointed questioning from Senator John McCain over the direction of military engagement in Syria.[47]

Austin's retirement ceremony took place at Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall on April 5, 2016.[48] During his departure and retirement ceremony, General Austin said that he was extremely proud of the achievements of the troops under his command. He said "I'm very proud to have had the opportunity to lead troops in combat, I have seen our young leaders do amazing things in really tough and dangerous situations."[40]

Private sector

Immediately after retiring as CENTCOM Commander, Austin joined the board of Raytheon Technologies, a military contractor, in April 2016.[49][50] As of October 2020, his Raytheon stock holdings were worth roughly $500,000 and his compensation, including stock, totaled $2.7 million.[49] On September 18, 2017, he was appointed to Nucor's board of directors.[51] On May 29, 2018, Austin was appointed as an independent director on the board of Tenet Healthcare.[52] He also operates a consulting firm and has been a partner at Pine Island Capital, an investment company with which Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Michèle Flournoy are affiliated.[53][49]

Secretary of Defense (2021–present)

Austin being sworn in as Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon on January 22, 2021

Nomination and confirmation

On December 7, 2020, it was reported that President-elect Joe Biden would nominate Austin as Secretary of Defense.[53][54] Austin had a close relationship with Beau, Biden's late son, when he served on Austin's staff in Iraq in 2008 and 2009 and both kept in touch with each other after Beau returned from his deployment.[55][56] Biden became acquainted with Austin while Austin was CENTCOM commander in the Obama administration, and reportedly grew to trust Austin after receiving Austin's briefings.[57] Like former defense secretary James Mattis,[58] Austin required a congressional waiver of the National Security Act of 1947 to bypass the seven-year waiting period after leaving active-duty military, as prescribed by 10 U.S.C. § 113(a), in order to be appointed as Secretary of Defense.[57] Austin's nomination, and the attendant requirement for a waiver, met with some concern in Congress regarding its implications for civil–military relations.[59][60] Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others, issued statements supporting Austin's nomination.[61]

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a confirmation hearing for Austin on January 19, 2021.[62] On January 21, Congress granted Austin a waiver of the seven-year requirement by a 326–78 vote in the House and a 69–27 vote in the Senate.[63][64] He was confirmed by the Senate in a 93–2 vote on January 22, 2021.[65] Republican senators Josh Hawley and Mike Lee were the only "no" votes. Upon his confirmation and swearing-in later that day, Austin became the first black secretary of defense.[66] Austin took office on January 22, 2021, after being sworn in by a Defense Department official, and was sworn in ceremonially by Vice President Kamala Harris on January 25, 2021.[67]

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin with U.S. President Joe Biden at The Pentagon on February 10, 2021.

Tenure

Upon assuming the office, Austin announced his top three priorities for the Defense Department in a memorandum issued to all DoD employees. It stated in part, "As the Secretary of Defense, I am committed to ensuring that the Department develops the right people, priorities, and purpose of mission to continue to defend our Nation from enemies foreign and domestic. This will require aligning our priorities and capabilities to a changing and dynamic threat landscape. We will do so in a way that is based on a sober assessment of our strategic needs and recognize the importance of building and sustaining a strong workforce and unity within our Department, across the Nation and with our allies and partners around the world. Three priorities - defending the Nation, taking care of our people, and succeeding through teamwork - will guide our efforts."[68]

On March 28, 2023, Austin testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on DoD's Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2024 and the Future Years Defense Program. In his opening statement he reiterated the objectives of the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS):

Austin with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto in Manama, Bahrain on November 20, 2021

"The NDS directs the Department to act urgently to sustain and strengthen U.S. deterrence, with the [People's Republic of China] as our pacing challenge. The NDS also directs the Department to tackle the acute threat of Russia, as well as the persistent threats from Iran, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), and global terrorist groups. The NDS clearly articulates our priorities: defend the homeland from the growing, multi-domain challenge posed by the PRC; deter strategic attacks against the United States, our Allies, and our Partners; deter aggression, while preparing to prevail in conflict if necessary, by prioritizing the PRC challenge in the Indo-Pacific, followed by the Russian challenge in Europe; and build a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem."[69]

Several days after assuming office as Secretary of Defense, Austin visited the National Guard deployed to Washington D.C. Austin praised the Guard for protecting the Capitol in the days after the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol.[70] During a press conference, he confirmed that the National Guard was expected to leave the U.S. Capitol within weeks and that there would be no further requests from federal authorities or lawmakers to keep the National Guard's troops in the Capitol complex following their March departure.[71] Austin would subsequently order the troops stay through May.[72]

Austin speaks to Department of Defense personnel in 2021

Part of Austin's primary agenda as Secretary of Defense was the Department of Defense's plan—in coordination with Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president—to confront the COVID-19 pandemic within the department. Austin's first step was to urge service members to get vaccinated, especially after the revelation that almost one-third of active-duty service members had turned down the opportunity to get administered the vaccine.[73] In order to tout the safety of the coronavirus vaccine, Austin took the vaccine himself and also emphasized that taking the coronavirus vaccine will prevent disease among the troops, particularly those who were deployed overseas.[74]

Among his early acts as Secretary of Defense, Austin removed former president Trump's appointees from the Pentagon advisory boards. As part of a review, he ordered their resignations, most notably former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Many of those removed were last minute political appointees after the 2020 election.[75]

Failure to disclose hospitalization

Main article: Lloyd Austin hospitalization controversy

On January 1, 2024, Austin was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center due to a urinary tract infection following surgical treatment of prostate cancer (prostatectomy) on December 22, 2023.[76] Austin spent several days in Walter Reed's intensive care unit (ICU) and delegated his authority to the Department of Defense second in command, Kathleen Hicks. The cancer was treated early, and Austin's doctors have stated that his prognosis is "excellent".[77][78]

The Department of Defense did not disclose the hospitalization to the President of the United States, senior Defense Department officials, senior White House national security staff, members of the U.S. Congress, media outlets, or the public for several days.[79] This secrecy, which came at a time when Iranian-backed militias were frequently attacking U.S. military bases and the U.S. Navy was fighting to protect maritime safety of commercial shipping vessels in the Persian Gulf area, contravened established practices of disclosing the medical issues of Cabinet members and senior U.S. officials.[80] Legal experts have also stated that Austin "clearly violated" U.S. laws requiring executive agencies to report any top-level absence.[81][82]

President Biden and high-ranking White House officials only learned of Austin's hospitalization three days after it happened, when National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was informed just before he attended an event at Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall where Austin was also scheduled to appear. Sullivan subsequently relayed the information to his colleagues and to Biden.[83] During Austin's absence, Hicks performed the duties of Secretary of Defense on an "on and off" basis while vacationing in Puerto Rico. She was not informed of Austin's absence for three days.[84] Other top civilian and military Defense Department officials were notified only two hours before public disclosure, and Congress was notified only fifteen minutes beforehand.[81]

The Pentagon Press Association, which represents members of the media covering the Department of Defense, criticized Austin's multiday disappearance and the ensuing lack of transparency as an "outrage".[85] Some Democratic and Republican members of Congress have called on Austin to resign due to the failure to disclose his absence.[86] Biden described Austin's lack of disclosure as a lapse in judgment, while also saying that he retained confidence in Austin.[87] In response to the incident, the White House and the Department of Defense have ordered reviews of all notification procedures.[88]

Extremism in the ranks

Concerns of possible right-wing extremism among the troops caused Austin to implement new training requirements. On February 5, 2021, Austin announced that all members of the United States military would be required to stand down within the next 60 days in order to conduct training. The training includes the importance of the oath of office, a review of impermissible behaviors, and procedures for reporting suspected or actual extremist behavior.[89][90][91]

Austin meets with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, Qatar, December 19, 2023

Middle East

Further information: Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen

Throughout his tenure, Austin has engaged with civil and military leaders in the Middle East, reinforcing the United States' commitment to partnerships and security in the region. Areas for collaboration between the U.S. and allies include integrated air and missile defense, maritime security, intelligence sharing and early warning systems.[92]

There are more than 30,000 U.S. troops in the Middle East, despite the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan and significant drawdown in Iraq.[92]

At the AIPAC Political Leadership Forum in January 2023, Austin stated: "Our network of alliances and partnerships is one of America's core strategic strengths. And no other country on Earth has anything like it. And that's especially important in today's Middle East."[93]

Austin with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, March 8, 2023

During a speech delivered at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain in November 2021, Austin said: "We do crucial work together with our friends in this [Middle East] region—to deter aggression from any quarter, to disrupt terrorist networks, and to maintain freedom of navigation in some of the world's most important waterways. And over the decades, we have worked side-by-side as you invested in the capabilities to defend yourselves. We've supported you along the way, and we're going to keep doing so. Our forces train together, plan together, and work together—and that makes us stronger together."[94] He went on to say: "So we're going to build on our longstanding investments in this crucial region—in security cooperation, and training, and professional military education, capacity building, and intelligence sharing, and joint exercises. It is a core part of my mission as Secretary of Defense to deepen and widen our partnerships."[95]

Austin with Turkish Defense Minister Yaşar Güler at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 16, 2023

On July 16, 2022, President Biden met in Jeddah with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – the Republic of Egypt, the Republic of Iraq, and the Kingdom of Jordan (together known as the GCC+3) for the first of its kind "Jeddah Security and Development Summit". At the Summit, Biden reiterated the importance the United States places on its decades-long strategic partnerships in the Middle East region, affirmed the U.S.' enduring commitment to the security and territorial defense of U.S. partners, and recognized the region's increasingly important role as a trade and technology crossroads between hemispheres. He also strongly affirmed the centrality of the Middle East region to the long-term security and prosperity of the United States and the American people.[96]

Iran

During a visit to Israel in March 2023, in a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Austin said: "Iran remains the primary driver of instability in the region and we remain deeply concerned by Iran's support for terrorism, its dangerous proxies, its nuclear advances, its aggression at sea, its cyber threats, and its proliferation of attack drones and advanced conventional weapons."[97]

At the AIPAC Political Leadership Forum on January 10, 2023, Austin stated: "Going back to my days at CENTCOM, I have consistently said that the greatest threat to Israeli security, and to the region, is the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. We fully understand the dangers of the Iranian government's destabilizing actions—including its support for terrorism, its dangerous proxies, and its threats to wipe Israel off the map. But Iran is also stoking instability across the region—including its support for terrorists and militias, its proliferation of drones, its menacing cyber activities, its maritime aggression, and its continued threats against foreign officials. So Iran's reckless actions don't just threaten Israel. They endanger the entire Middle East and beyond, including by supporting Russia's cruel targeting of civilians in Ukraine. And increasingly, U.S. partners understand the importance of a regional approach to this kind of shared danger. So we're working closely with Israel, our partners in the Middle East, and our allies and partners to impose coordinated pressure on the Iranian regime."[93]

On February 19, 2021, Austin spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying that "We discussed the continued commitment to the 70-year US-Saudi security partnership, and I'm looking forward to working together to achieve regional security and stability." Austin expressed support for Saudi Arabia in the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict.[98]

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hosts Saudi prince Khalid bin Salman at the Pentagon, July 6, 2021

On February 25, 2021, under Biden's direction, Austin coordinated military defensive airstrikes against an Iranian-backed militia in Syria. Austin had previously recommended such airstrikes as a response to Iranian attacks on Americans in Iraq earlier in the month. It was also believed that the militia is responsible for killing a civilian contractor and injuring one American soldier as well as other troops in a missile attack on February 15, 2021.[99][100]

Combatting terrorism

During his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 28, 2023, Austin stated that, "ISIS, al-Qa'ida, and other terrorist groups continue to threaten the security of the United States, our citizens, and our Partners in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. We are investing in a modernized, over-the-horizon counterterrorism architecture to prevent future attacks on our citizens and the U.S. homeland, and we have proven our continued ability to remove the most threatening al-Qa'ida and ISIS operatives from the battlefield."[101]

Israel

Further information: Israel–United States military relations and 2023 Israel–Hamas war

Austin with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 13, 2023

In January 2023, Austin declared that "America's commitment to Israel's security is ironclad. It is not negotiable. And it never will be."[93]

In January 2023, the U.S. and Israel conducted the largest U.S.-Israel partnered exercise in history: Juniper Oak 23.2. The exercise integrated unmanned aerial vehicles, strategic bombers, jet fighters and precision fires. U.S. and Israeli forces conducted long-range strikes, suppression of enemy air defense, electronic attacks, offensive counter and air interdiction, and air operations in the maritime domain. More than 7,000 personnel participated in the all-domain exercise.[102]

On October 8, 2023, the day after the Hamas attack on Israel, Austin directed Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean in response. Along with the carrier, the group also included the cruiser Normandy and the destroyers Ramage, Carney, Roosevelt, and Thomas Hudner.[103] On October 13, 2023, he arrived in Israel and met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Austin said: "I am here in person to make something crystal-clear: America's support for Israel is ironclad."[104]

Austin with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on December 18, 2023

Since the initial Hamas attack, Pentagon Spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the Department has focused its efforts on protecting American forces and citizens in the region, flowing security assistance to Israel, coordinating with Israelis to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and strengthening the force posture across the region in order to deter any escalation of the conflict beyond Gaza.[105]

In November 2023, the House approved $14.5 billion in military aid for Israel.[106] The Biden administration announced that it would seek "an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defense” of $14.3 billion."[107]

On November 13, 2023, Defence for Children International, Al-Haq, and Palestinians living in Gaza and the United States, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed a lawsuit against Lloyd Austin, President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken for failure to prevent genocide, citing Israel's "mass killings," targeting of schools and hospitals, collective punishment, use of chemical weapons, forced expulsion, and blockage of food, water, electricity and other basic needs.[108][109] The lawsuit reads: "Despite escalating evidence of Israeli policies directed at inflicting mass harm to the Palestinian population in Gaza," the Biden administration opposed "a life-saving cease-fire and lifting of the siege, even vetoing United Nations measures calling for a ceasefire. Instead, their actions to fund, arm, and endorse Israel’s mass and devastating bombing campaign and total siege of the Palestinians in Gaza constitutes a failure to prevent an unfolding genocide and complicity in its development."[110]

On November 28, 2023, the U.S. airlifted 24.5 metric tons, or more than 54,000 pounds, of U.N. humanitarian supplies to the people of Gaza. At the request of USAID, these supplies were transported via a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft to Egypt where they were then transported via ground into Gaza and then distributed by U.N. agencies.[111]

On December 2, 2023, Austin stated that "the United States will remain Israel’s closest friend in the world. Our support for Israel’s security is non-negotiable. And it never will be."[112] In December 2023, the Biden administration bypassed Congress to approve the sale of military equipment to Israel.[113] On December 18, 2023, Austin declared that American support for Israel is "unshakeable".[114]

Indo-Pacific

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin with Commander of U.S. Forces Japan Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan.

In his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on March 29, 2023, Austin said: "The PRC is our pacing challenge. And we're driving hard to meet it. Our budget builds on our previous investments to deter aggression. We're investing in a more resilient force posture in the Indo-Pacific and increasing the scale and the scope of our exercises with our partners.

And in recent months, our friends in the Indo-Pacific have taken major steps forward. The Philippines has agreed to nearly double the number of sites where we cooperate together. Japan has committed to double its defense spending. And through the historic AUKUS partnership, we'll work with our Australian and British allies to build game-changing defense advantages that will deter aggression and boost our defense industrial capacity."[115]

In March 2021, as part of their first overseas trip as members of the Biden administration, Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Japan and South Korea.[116] The trip reflected the Biden administration's concerns about China's growing influence within the Indo-Pacific region, especially their military buildup during the pandemic, as well North Korea's nuclear threat and the February 2021 coup d'état in Myanmar.[117] The trip was also part of the Biden administration's "America is back" diplomatic theme, and Austin pledged the U.S.'s commitment to reaffirm ties with its allies and to maintain a robust military presence in the Indo-Pacific region.[116] Austin added that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula remains a top priority for the Biden Administration, and that the alliances with South Korea and Japan are among the most important tools the United States has in that regard.[118]

Austin meets with Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 29, 2021

On March 16, 2021, the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (SCC) (Japan-U.S. "2+2") was convened in Tokyo. The meeting was attended by Austin and Blinken from the U.S. side, and Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu and Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo from the Japanese side. The four ministers reaffirmed that the Japan-U.S. Alliance remains the "cornerstone" of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, and renewed the unwavering commitment of both countries to the Japan-U.S. Alliance.[119]

In June 2023, as part of his seventh official visit to the Indo-Pacific region, Austin traveled to Tokyo to meet with his Japanese counterpart, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and other senior leaders, including Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. Austin's visit comes as the United States and Japan take important strides to modernize Alliance capabilities, optimize U.S. force posture, and build links with like-minded partners following the historic U.S.-Japan "2+2" Ministerial meeting earlier this year.[120]

In July 2023, Austin traveled to Australia where he participated in the 33rd Australia/U.S. ministerial consultations, also called AUSMIN. Following the meeting, DoD officials stated, "the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Australia has never been stronger" and "it is doing more than ever for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific."[121]

Austin with Philippine President Bongbong Marcos at the Pentagon, May 3, 2023

In March 2021, Austin also made a three-day visit to India, where he met with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh, and other senior government officials.[122] India drew closer to the United States following its tensions with China on their disputed Sino-Indian border. Austin urged India to cancel the planned purchase of Russia's S-400 air defence system.[123]

Austin made a second visit to India in June 2023, where he again met with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh as well as other senior leaders to discuss the ongoing joint efforts to modernize the U.S.-India Major Defense Partnership.[120]

The India-U.S. defense partnership has strengthened considerably in the last few years with the countries signing key defense and security pacts, including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016 that allows their militaries to use each other's bases for repair and replenishment of supplies.[124]

Austin with Chinese State councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, November 22, 2022

During a press conference following Austin's visit to New Delhi, a senior Defense Department official described the progress between the U.S. and India: "India's growing commitment to playing a more engaged international role, including in the Indo-Pacific Quad, demonstrates a new and growing willingness to join the United States to protect and advance a shared vision of a free, open and rules-based global order.[125]

On June 11, 2022, Austin condemned China's "provocative, destabilising" military activity near Taiwan,[126] a day after China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe warned Austin that "if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost."[127] Austin said the United States "will continue to fulfill our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act. That includes assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability."[128] By February 2023, he had secured the U.S. military access to nine military bases in the Philippines, which is orthogonally situated between Taiwan and the South China Sea, expediting the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed during the Obama administration.[129] At the June 2023 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Austin warned that conflict in the Taiwan Strait would be devastating.[130]

In November 2023, Austin traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia for the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus where he emphasized the U.S. commitment to ASEAN centrality as a key pillar of the United States’ efforts to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific and detailed how U.S. security cooperation with ASEAN partners is contributing to a more stable and prosperous region. On the margins of the ADMM-Plus, Austin also met with each of his ASEAN counterparts from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.[131]

Afghanistan

Austin meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on June 25, 2021

On February 19, 2021, Austin told reporters at the Pentagon that the Biden Administration had not yet determined whether the U.S. would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the May 1 deadline set by the Trump administration in February 2020 as part of the Doha Agreement, a deal reached between the United States and the Taliban.[132] The Biden administration was considering a six-month extension.[133] Austin promised that the United States "will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan."[134] On March 21, 2021, Austin met with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.[135]

In March 2021, Biden directed his national security team, including Austin, to begin withdrawal planning that accounted for a range of possible contingencies, including a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO).[136] On April 14, 2021, in an address to the nation, President Biden announced that a new deadline for full withdrawal of all U.S. troops had been set for September 11, 2021. "After consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence personnel, with our diplomats and our development experts, with the Congress and the Vice President, as well as with [Afghan President Ashraf Ghani] and many others around the world, I concluded that it's time to end America's longest war. It's time for American troops to come home," he said.[137]

Soon after the withdrawal of U.S. troops started, the Taliban launched an offensive against the Afghan government, quickly advancing in front of a collapsing Afghan Armed Forces.[138][139] On July 24, 2021, Austin said: "In terms of whether or not [Afghanistan's military] will stop the Taliban, I think the first thing to do is to make sure that they can slow the momentum."[140]

Austin with NATO's Resolute Support Mission commander Austin S. Miller in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 2021

On August 12, 2021, following continued Taliban victories across Afghanistan, the Biden Administration announced that 3,000 U.S. troops would be deployed to Kabul Airport to evacuate embassy personnel, US nationals and Special Immigrant Visa applicants.[141] Over the next few weeks, the Defense Department oversaw one of the largest airlifts in history, evacuating more than 120,000 Americans, Afghans and people of other nationalities.[142] On August 26, 2021, an ISIS-K terrorist detonated a suicide bomb at Hamid Karzai International Airport, killing more than 170 civilians and 13 US service members.[143] In a statement issued on the one-year anniversary of that devastating attack at Abbey Gate, Austin said: "The heroes we lost that day gave their lives to defend their teammates and to help save the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Afghan people who sought freedom and the opportunity for a better life."[144] On August 30, 2021, the last American service member left Afghanistan.[145]

In December 2021, Austin directed an independent After Action Review (AAR) be conducted to provide a detailed assessment of the Defense Department's implementation of US Afghanistan policy from January 2020 through August 2021. "The purpose of the AAR was to examine decision points, constraints, and assumptions in order to contribute toward a whole-of-government effort to learn, improve and incorporate lessons learned into the Department's response to future crises."[146]

Ukraine

Further information: Russia–United States relations and Russian invasion of Ukraine

Austin refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating Russian war crimes in Ukraine.[147]

On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine, stating the "special military operation" is aimed at "demilitarization" and "denazification" of the country to protect ethnic Russians, prevent Kyiv's NATO membership and to keep it in Russia's "sphere of influence".[148] During the invasion, the U.S. sent tens of billions of dollars in missiles, ammunition and other items to Ukraine.[149] Austin said that he wanted to see "Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine".[150] The New York Times reported that U.S. military may be providing real-time battlefield targeting intelligence to Ukraine.[151][152][153] Austin said he "does not" believe that Russia's invasion of Ukraine will result in a nuclear war.[154]

Austin immediately ordered deployment of 7,000 U.S. military personnel and key enablers to locations across Europe in support of Ukraine. The next day, the NATO Response Force was activated,[155] and the Biden administration authorized $350 million in military assistance from Defense Department inventories, including anti-armor, small arms and various munitions, body armor, and related equipment.[156]

In March 2022, the Biden administration announced $1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, including direct transfers of Defense Department equipment to the Ukrainian military. In total, the United States has committed more than $44.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration, including $44.2 billion since the beginning of Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022.[157][158]

On April 24, 2022, Secretary Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv, Ukraine, and met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders. They discussed America's stalwart support for the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian people, including through the U.S.'s significant assistance to Ukraine's security, governance, economic and humanitarian needs.[159]

On April 26, 2022, Austin hosted a forum at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where nearly 40 nations met to discuss current and future efforts to provide support for Ukraine. In his opening comments he articulated the purpose of the gathering, "to help Ukraine win the fight against Russia's unjust invasion—and to build up Ukraine's defenses for tomorrow's challenges". Austin also made clear that the invasion of Ukraine was a "war of choice". "Nobody is fooled by Putin's pretexts or by his phony claims on the Donbas [region]", Austin said. "Let's be clear — Russia's invasion is indefensible, and so are Russian atrocities. We all start today from a position of moral clarity: Russia is waging a war of choice to indulge the ambitions of one man."[160]

"Russia's invasion is baseless, reckless and lawless," Austin said. "It is an affront to the rules-based international order. It is a challenge to free people everywhere. And, as we see this morning, nations of goodwill from around the world stand united in our resolve to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia's imperial aggression. And that's the way it should be." "The contact group will be a vehicle for nations of goodwill to intensify our efforts, coordinate our assistance, and focus on winning today's fight and the struggles to come. The monthly meetings may be in-person, virtual or mixed. And they'll extend the transparency, the integration, and the dialogue that we saw today."[161]

Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on April 24, 2022

On January 20, 2023, Austin traveled to Ramstein Air Base, Germany to conduct the eighth such meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG). He was joined by ministers of defense and chiefs of defense from nearly 50 nations, including Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.[162] The meeting produced an unprecedented level of donations from allies and partners,[163] including the procurement of 31 M1 Abrams tanks for Ukraine by the U.S.[164] as part of a $400 million Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package.[165] On May 15, 2023, the Defense Department announced the arrival of the Abrams tanks to Grafenwoehr, Germany in preparation for U.S.-led training of Ukrainian tank crews and maintainers before the tanks are sent to the front lines to arm Ukrainian forces.[166]

Austin refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating Russian war crimes in Ukraine, consistent with long-standing policy[167] that it might legitimize the ICC's investigation of United States war crimes.[168][169] During a May 2023 Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing about the Department of Defense's (DoD) fiscal year 2024 budget request, Senator Dick Durbin asked Austin: "Why are you reluctant to share [with the International Criminal Court] the evidence that we have gathered in the United States through the Department of Defense for those who are holding [Russian President] Vladimir Putin accountable for his war crimes?" Austin responded, "The Department firmly supports the goal of holding Russia accountable for its violations in Ukraine." But he added, "I will always prioritize the protection of US military personnel in anything that we do." When Durbin pushed him for further clarification, Austin said, "Again, I do have concerns about reciprocity [against U.S. military personnel] going forward."[170][171]

On May 25, 2023, Austin hosted the 12th meeting of the UDCG, held virtually and attended by leaders from 50 countries.[172] Austin told those gathered, "Today, we committed to doing even more to support Ukraine's fight for freedom. I came away from today's meeting as confident as ever in the contact group's resolve and sustained unity."[173]

On June 15, 2023, Austin delivered remarks at the 13th meeting of the UDCG, marking the United States' new package of more than $2 billion under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.[174] On July 17, 2023, he spoke at the 14th meeting of the UDCG, noting that "Russia's war of choice has now lasted more than 500 days.[175] On September 19, 2023, at the 15th meeting of the UDCG, Austin said: "Back in June, President Biden joined the leaders of the G7 in a joint declaration condemning, and I quote, "Russia's illegal, unjustifiable and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. Those leaders committed to working together with Ukraine on long-term bilateral security commitments and arrangements to help secure its future. Since June, more than 22 countries have signed on to this statement and they've started working to further deepen their support for Ukraine now and in the years to come."[176]

Austin with Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov in Kyiv, November 20, 2023

The U.S.-led coalition has grown to include more than 54 countries – from North America to Europe to the Indo-Pacific – providing military assistance to help Ukraine. Collectively, as of February 2023, they have committed more than $80 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion.[158] They have also committed over: 1,000 tanks and other armored vehicles, 800 artillery systems, two million rounds of artillery ammunition and 50 advanced multiple rocket launching systems.[177] The group of nations has also trained thousands of Ukrainian service members in these new capabilities.[173]

At an October 31, 2023 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Austin told lawmakers that supplemental aid is needed to help Ukraine continue to defend itself against Russia's ongoing aggression. He said, “Today's battles against aggression and terrorism will define global security for years to come. And only firm American leadership can ensure that tyrants, thugs and terrorists worldwide are not emboldened to commit more aggression and more atrocities.”[178]

On November 20, 2023, Austin met with President Zelensky and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov during an unannounced visit to Ukraine. It was his third visit as defense secretary and second since Russia’s invasion. While in Kyiv, Austin announced a new security assistance package for Ukraine valued at up to $100 million. The package includes additional air defense capabilities, artillery ammunition, antitank weapons and other materials to help Ukrainian forces defend their territory amid Russia's ongoing assault.[158] On November 22, Austin hosted the 17th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group virtually from the Pentagon.[179]

Austin with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Washington, D.C., December 11, 2023

On December 2, 2023, in his keynote address at the Reagan National Defense Forum held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, Austin said, in part: "We must continue to be clear to the American people about the stakes in Ukraine. Ukraine matters profoundly to America and to the entire world. And it matters for four key reasons. First, Putin’s war poses a stark and direct threat to security in Europe and beyond. Second, Putin’s aggression is a clear challenge to our NATO allies. Third, the Kremlin’s deliberate cruelty is an attack on our shared values of democracy and decency. And finally, Putin’s war is a frontal assault on the international rules-based order. So the outcome of this struggle will define global security for decades to come. And we don’t have the option of sitting it out."[180]

He went on to say: "If we do not stand up to the Kremlin’s naked aggression today, if we do not deter other would-be aggressors, we will only embolden them—and we will invite even more bloodshed and chaos. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine offers a grim preview of a world of tyranny and turmoil that should make us all shudder."[180]

Africa

Austin at the United States–Africa Leaders Summit 2022
Austin with Djibouti's President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, September 24, 2023

In September 2023, Austin made his first trip to Africa as Secretary of Defense. He started his tour in Djibouti, home to the primary U.S. military base on the African continent, Camp Lemonnier, where he met with Djibouti's President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. He then traveled to Kenya, where he and Kenyan Defense Minister Aden Duale signed a five-year security agreement to support working together against their common terror threat. Austin also pledged $100 million in support of Kenyan security deployments, as Kenya prepares to lead a multinational peacekeeping mission to Haiti to combat gang violence. He concluded his trip on Africa’s western coast, becoming the first U.S. defense secretary to ever visit Angola.[181]

In a speech delivered at the National Archives Auditorium in Luanda, Angola on September 27, Austin said:

"I'm here in Angola to strengthen that robust and equal partnership. But I'm also here to underscore an important point, and that is that Africa matters. It matters profoundly to the shape of the 21st Century world. And it matters for our common prosperity and our shared security."[182]

He went on to say: "We know that the walk to freedom can be long, and no one gets it right all of the time. You know, I love my country so much that I fought for it, but America isn't trying to cover up for our imperfections. When a democracy falls short, when it falls short of its best traditions, as we all sometimes do, the whole world gets to see it. But that's not the point. The genius of a democracy is not that it's perfect. The genius of a democracy is that it can always open up space to let its citizen strive to live the universal values of freedom and self-government and human rights.

And the genius of a democracy is that it is always a work in progress, and that's personal for me. I am a child of America's segregated South. I grew up in a time of legalized and racist segregation in America, and I stand here today in Africa as America's first black secretary of defense."[182]

Personal life

Austin was raised by a devoutly Catholic mother and remains practicing himself.[183][184]

Austin and his wife, Charlene Denise Banner Austin, have been married for over forty years.[3][185] Charlene worked as a non-profit administrator and served on the board of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University.[186] Austin has two stepsons.[3][4]

Austin has been described as "notoriously private".[187] On January 9, 2024, Austin announced that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.[188] His initial concealment of the diagnosis from the public and President Joe Biden was criticized.[187][189][190]

Awards and decorations

Austin in South Korea, 2023
The XVIII Airborne Corps command group returns home from Operation Iraqi Freedom in April 2009; Austin is in front
Personal decorations
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Defense Distinguished Service Medal with four bronze oak leaf clusters[191]
Army Distinguished Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters[191]
Silver Star[191]
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Defense Superior Service Medal with oak leaf cluster[191]
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster[191]
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters
Joint Service Commendation Medal
Silver oak leaf cluster
Army Commendation Medal with silver oak leaf cluster (5 bronze oak leaf clusters)
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Army Achievement Medal with oak leaf cluster
Unit Awards
Army Presidential Unit Citation
Joint Meritorious Unit Award with two oak leaf clusters
State Department awards
Secretary's Distinguished Service Award, Department of State
Campaign and service medals
National Defense Service Medal with two bronze service stars
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Bronze star
Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star
Iraq Campaign Medal with three campaign stars
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal with two service stars
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Humanitarian Service Medal
Service and training awards
Army Service Ribbon
Army Overseas Service Ribbon with bronze award numeral 3
Other accoutrements
Combat Action Badge
Expert Infantryman Badge
Ranger Tab
Master Parachutist Badge
United States Central Command Badge
Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge
Army Staff Identification Badge
XVIII Airborne Corps Combat Service Identification Badge
505th Infantry Regiment Distinctive Unit Insignia

Publications

See also

References

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General sources

Further reading