Venezuela stages war games in defiance of U.S. pressure

Venezuela kicked off two days of military drills on Saturday in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of military action and newly announced sanctions on the crisis-stricken nation.

War planes, tanks and 200,000 troops of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) deployed along with 700,000 reserves and civil militia members as the exercises were formally launched by socialist President Nicolas Maduro. 

"The people and the FANB are defending territory and sovereignty," Maduro wrote on Twitter. 

Trump warned on August 11 that the United States was mulling a range of options against Venezuela, "including a possible military option if necessary." 

Top U.S. officials later played down the threat. "No military actions are anticipated in the near future," said National security advisor HR McMaster. 

But tension surged again when the White House made good on the sanctions threat on Friday, unveiling its first-ever such measures to target Venezuela as a whole, rather than just Maduro and his inner circle. 

Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the armed forces support "all measures being implemented to counter the financial blockade," and that the drills were "for the defense of the whole country" against "imperial aggression." 

On Thursday, the president warned the armed forces not to break ranks

"We must be clear, especially for the youth in the military, that we must close ranks within the homeland -- that this is no time for any fissures and that those with doubts should leave the armed forces immediately," he said in a speech to the top military brass. 

"You are with Trump and the imperialists, or you are with the Bolivarian national armed forces and the homeland," he added.