Four hundred U.S. Marines and 100 Afghan army soldiers began a helicopter assault on Helmand province in Afghanistan Wednesday as part of an effort to loosen Taliban control of the area before the forthcoming presidential elections. According to a Pentagon spokesman, 10,000 Marines have been sent to Helmand. "An operation like this contributes to that goal of allowing Afghans the ability to exercise their right to vote," the spokesman said. The Marine contingent is the largest part of President Barack Obama's plan to change the momentum of the eight-year war. Reuters describes Helmand as "Afghanistan's most violent province," noting that it produces the largest share of the world's opium poppy crop. The period since July has been the deadliest of the war for U.S. and allied troops. This week, two journalists covering the war for the Associated Press were wounded.