March 13 (UPI) -- WASHINGTON -- House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., on Wednesday warned of a potential insurgency in Venezuela should the United States overthrow the government of President Nicolas Maduro with military force.
"I want to know what it will look like, how the administration sees this playing out," Engel said of a potential intervention at a committee hearing that featured testimony from a former Obama official for Latin America and other Venezuela experts.
Engel compared the fallout from intervention to the chaos unleashed in Iraq after a U.S. military intervention in 2003.
"Will a government come to power with the backing of U.S. intervention have any legitimacy in the eyes of the Venezuelan people and other governments in the region?" Engel asked.
Rebecca Bill Chávez, the Obama administration's assistant secretary of defense for western hemisphere affairs, estimated an invasion of Venezuela would require 100,000 to 150,000 U.S. troops, four times the number used to overthrow Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989.
She also affirmed Engel's fear of a rebellion, saying U.S. troops "would face an insurgency" made up of Venezuelan paramilitaries loyal to Maduro as well as Colombian guerillas.
The committee is set to consider three bills regarding Venezuela on Thursday, including one introduced by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., prohibiting the use of funds for military force against Caracas.
The crisis in Venezuela has deepened since the United States recognized National Assembly President Juan Guaido as interim president in January.
Electricity blackouts have rocked Venezuela since last week, triggering mass looting and protests.
Ranking member Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said Special Representative to Venezuela Elliott Abrams expressed concern about Cicilline's bill, arguing a divided Congress would benefit Maduro.
"This premature signal sends a dangerous message at a very delicate time," McCaul said.
Abrams, a former Reagan and Bush administration official, told reporters at the State Department on Tuesday that the United States will issue further sanctions and visa restrictions on the Venezuelan government in the coming days.
Abrams said "the situation in Caracas has deteriorated very considerably" since he joined the administration six weeks ago. He reiterated the White House's refrain that "all options are on the table" when it came to intervening militarily in Venezuela.
The United States' approach to Venezuela was complicated Monday when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the withdrawal of U.S. diplomats from the country, citing security concerns linked to the blackouts.
Yet Vanessa Neumann, president of the political risk consulting firm Asymmetrica, urged the committee to not pass Cicilline's bill, arguing that "removing the stick" of military intervention would "complicate the transition to democracy that we so desperately need."
"We all agree the Maduro regime has destroyed Venezuela's economy," Cicilline said. "But Congress has never found time to reassert our control over military intervention."