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SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Tuesday it may take more boots on the ground to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq as part of a war on terror the country will be fighting "as long as we're alive."
An Air Force pilot for 14 years, Stewart said the airstrikes launched Monday by President Barack Obama in Syria aren't going to be enough to defeat the group also known as ISIS.
"We can accomplish a lot, but we can't accomplish everything," the 2nd District congressman said. "You can't force them back, not entirely, not without some ground assets. Those are real critical."
Stewart said while he is sympathetic to the nation's war-weariness, ISIS "is a challenge to us, and we're going to have to be willing to stand up and confront" the militant force.
And while the president has said he does not want to send more troops to the region, Stewart said there are already some 1,600 special forces troops on the ground, but that may not be enough.
You can't force (ISIL) back, not entirely, not without some ground assets. Those are real critical.
–Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah
He said that could mean members of the Utah National Guard, which has already deployed more than 14,000 troops since 2001, may be called up again to serve in the Middle East.
Utah National Guard Lt. Col. Steven Fairbourn said the number of troops deployed from the Beehive State is at the lowest it's been in 13 years, but "we stand ready to serve when called upon."
Stewart said he was not advocating a massive troop buildup in the region. Instead, he said, the U.S. could have a "small footprint" of special forces, intelligence and other units serving alongside allied troops.
After meeting with Syrian Opposition Coalition President Hadi al-Bahra in August as part of a House Armed Services Committee trip to the Middle East, Stewart said he can be trusted.
"I believe that he is a good man. I believe he's trying his very best under some very difficult circumstances. I think we can put some faith in those coalition forces, but it's a very complicated part of the world," the congressman said.
Lawmakers share differing opinions on Obama and the war on terror
Stewart was critical of how Obama has handled the war on terror, fought in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria. He said it's a "generational battle" that may cool off but not end in this lifetime.
"He created this impression that the war on terror was over. It was like World War II. We won the war, and we all come home. And that's just not the case," Stewart said. "Honestly, we're going to be fighting this war as long as we're alive."
Last week, Congress approved a budget bill that also authorized training Syrian rebel troops. Two members of Utah's congressional delegation, Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, opposed the bill.
Lee said he's waiting to hear how the president intends to eliminate ISIS.
"I think we all support that. So far, we haven't seen a plan to do that that goes beyond airstrikes. And yet most of our national security experts are telling us taking out ISIS will require more," Lee said.
Congress needs to debate the issues, Lee said, calling last week's legislation "an afterthought tacked onto a spending bill." He said Utah Guard troops should be prepared for the possibility of being deployed.
"If today's actions are any indication, that certainly does seem to be possible," the senator said.
Matheson, who voted for a House amendment to arm the rebel troops but against the final bill, also said there needs to be more debate in Congress now, rather than waiting until after the November election.
"Quite frankly, I think Congress ought to be back in Washington working on this issue right now," instead of on an extended recess for campaigning, said Matheson, who is not seeking re-election. "That's what the public deserves."
Matheson said while Obama is saying there won't be more troops deployed, that could change.
"This situation is a series of less than ideal options," he said, calling it "fluid, and it can change on a moment's notice."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Obama made the right decision to authorize airstrikes against ISIS, as well as a cell in Syria known as the Khorasan group, made up of al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Hatch cited the coordination of the strikes with Arab nations in the region.
"I hope the Obama administration will develop an overarching strategy for the region and continue to work with those partners to eliminate the ISIS threat," Hatch said in a statement.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said in a statement that ISIS is targeting America and its allies. He said he's proud of the armed forces' efforts to keep Americans safe at home and supports the military's "strategic actions to thwart these dangerous terrorists."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also responded to the airstrikes.
"If there is a clear and present danger to the United States," he said in a statement, "I want the president to take out that threat."
Contributing: Alex Cabrero, Jed Boal and Mike Anderson