US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a military-wide "stand-down" to address the issue of white nationalism and other forms of extremism in the ranks of the armed forces.
The Pentagon remained mostly tight-lipped on the details of the decision, which came after Austin met Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley as well as service secretaries and chiefs on Wednesday morning.
Defence Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the senior Pentagon officials are due to conduct "needed discussions" with subordinates about extremism in the next 60 days.
"We don't know how we're going to be able to get after this in a meaningful, productive, tangible way and that is why he had this meeting today and that is why he [Austin] certainly ordered this stand-down", Kirby said.
The Pentagon spokesman added that one of the reasons Austin "wants to do this stand-down is to see the scope of the problem" pertaining to extremism.
"[…] We don't want to overestimate or underestimate the number of people it might affect. It may be more than we're comfortable hearing and admitting and probably a lot less than the media attention surrounding it seems to suggest it could be. But where is it? It's just not clear", Kirby pointed out.
According to him, Department of Defence officials have for years tried to get to the bottom of the issue of extremism among service members, and the events of 6 January indicated that this is "something we haven't solved [yet]".
On 6 January, supporters of then-outgoing US President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden's 3 November presidential election win. The rioters reportedly included some active-duty service members and veterans.
"[Austin] too is frustrated that this is an issue and that we don't have better visibility, better understanding of it", the Defence Department spokesman added.
The statement came after Austin, America's first-ever Black defence secretary, vowed during his confirmation hearing that he would fight to "rid our [military] ranks of racists and extremists".