Operation Storm-333 (Шторм-333, Shtorm-333) was the codename of an operation that was originally scheduled to happen on December 14th, 1979 but was postponed to the 27th of December, in which Soviet Special Forces stormed the Tajbeg Palace in Afghanistan and killed Afghan President Hafizullah Amin and his 100–150 personal guards. His 11-year-old son died due to shrapnel wounds. The Soviets installed Babrak Karmal as Amin's successor.
Several other government buildings were seized during the operation, including the Ministry of Interior building, the Internal Security (KHAD) building, and the General Staff building (Darul Aman Palace). Alpha Group veterans call this operation one of the most successful in the group's history.
The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was initially led by Nur Muhammad Taraki, who was pro-Soviet Union, so Afghan–Soviet relations were friendly. In September 1979 Taraki was deposed by Hafizullah Amin, due to intra-party strife. After this event and the suspicious death of Taraki (an apparent assassination by Amin's followers), Afghan–Soviet relations started to deteriorate; by December the Soviet leadership had established an alliance with Babrak Karmal. The Soviet Union declared its plan to intervene in Afghanistan on 12 December 1979, and the Soviet leadership initiated Operation Storm-333 (the first phase of the intervention) on 27 December 1979.
Taking part in the operation were 24 men from the Гром (Grom – "Thunder") unit of Alpha Group, and 30 operators from a special KGB group Зенит (Zenit – "Zenith"), later known as Vympel. There were also 520 men from the 154th Separate Spetsnaz Battalion of the USSR Ministry of Defence known as the "Muslim Battalion" because it consisted exclusively of soldiers from the southern republics of the USSR, and 87 troops of a company of 345 Guards Airborne Regiment. These support troops were not issued armor or helmets, but one of them recalls that a magazine tucked inside his clothes protected him from an SMG bullet.
The assault and killing of Amin
The assault on the Tajbeg Palace, where Amin had taken refuge after the Soviet invasion on 24 December, began shortly afterward on 27 December.
Only the special groups of the KGB took part in the storming of the palace itself, during which the units suffered five killed, including Colonel G.I. Boyarinov. Almost all were wounded, but those who could bear arms, continued to fight. During the attack Amin still believed the Soviet Union was on his side, and told his adjutant, "The Soviets will help us". The adjutant replied that it was the Soviets who were attacking them; Amin initially replied that this was a lie. Only after he tried but failed to contact the Chief of the General Staff, he muttered, "I guessed it. It's all true". There are various accounts of how Amin died, but the exact details have never been confirmed. Amin was either killed by a deliberate attack or died by a "random burst of fire". Amin's son was fatally wounded and died shortly after. His daughter was wounded, but survived. More than 150 other Afghans, including most of Amin's bodyguards, also died in the fighting, and part of the palace went up in flames.
During the assault on the Tajbeg 5 officers of KGB special forces, 6 troops from the "Muslim Battalion" and 9 paratroopers were killed. The commander of the operation, Col. Boyarinov, was killed. Almost all participants in the operation were wounded. Also, Soviet army doctor Colonel V.P. Kuznechenkov was killed by friendly fire in the palace, and was posthumously awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
According to Mitrokhin Archive, "over a hundred of the KGB troops were killed before the palace was taken and Amin gunned down," although co-writer Christopher Andrew does concede that the higher figure may have consisted of all "casualties" and not just deaths.
However, it is stated in the publication "The KGB in Afghanistan" by Vasili Mitrokhin:
"Over 700 members of the KGB from the Centre and the Periphery were dropped into Kabul to take part in Operation Agat. The troops were dressed in Afghan army uniforms. ... Over 100 of the KGB were killed in the attack on the palace. Such large losses forced Andropov to question the expediency of hanging portraits in mourning frames of heroes killed whilst carrying out their noble international mission in the halls and corridors as this would attract unnecessary attention".
Memoirs of the participants
According to Oleg Balashov, commanding officer from Alpha, the assault was led by two elite units of Alpha and Vympel (15–20 each). The Alpha unit targeted Amin, and the Vympel unit had the task of collecting factual evidence that Amin was collaborating with the United States. Both units were brought to Afghanistan secretly and blended with Muslim battalions to make an impression that the operation was carried out by locals, whereas in reality nearly all work was done by Alpha and Vympel.
Before the operation, Balashov surveyed the area under the guise of a bodyguard of a Soviet diplomat. His unit knew that they were going to a death zone and felt uncomfortable about it – about 80% of them were wounded shortly after they left their vehicles, yet they continued the assault. As Balashov expected, Amin's troops targeted the first and last vehicle in the convoy of six. He placed his team of five men in the front BMP and, when the BMP got immobilized by fire from Amin's troops, ordered them to abandon the BMP and run to the palace. All five were quickly wounded by massive fire from the guards, but were saved by bulletproof vests and helmets.
This account generally agrees with that by Lyakhovskiy, who gives more details and accentuates the ferocity and professionalism on both the attacking and defending sides.
- Tomsen, Peter (9 June 2011). Wars of Afghanistan (1st ed.). PublicAffairs. p. 174. ISBN 978-1586487638.
- Lyakhovskiy, A. A. Декабрь, день27, 1979. orc.ru. This page refers to Alpha and Vympel by their previous names Grom and Zenith, respectively
- McCauley, Martin (2008). Russia, America and the Cold War: 1949–1991 (Revised 2nd ed.). Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.
- "How Soviet troops stormed Kabul palace". BBC. 27 December 2009. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
- Rasanayagam, Angelo (2005). Afghanistan: A Modern History. I.B.Tauris. p. 90. ISBN 978-1850438571.
- Camp, Dick (2012). Boots on the Ground: The Fight to Liberate Afghanistan from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, 2001–2002. Zenith Imprint. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-7603-4111-7.
- (Russian) Article on Storm-333 at VPK-news.ru
- Braithwaite 2011, p. 96.
- Braithwaite 2011, p. 98.
- Braithwaite 2011, p. 99.
- Braithwaite 2011, p. 104.
- The Sword and the Shield, Basic Books 1999, ISBN 0-465-00310-9, pp 390–391
- Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Working paper №40
- Interview with Colonel Oleg Balashov. BBC (in Russian)
- Braithwaite, Rodric (2011). "Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979–89". Profile Books. ISBN 978-1-84668-062-5.
- Mitrokhin, Vasiliy (July 2002). "The KGB in Afghanistan". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Retrieved 2011-12-16.
- Lyakhovskiy, Aleksandr (January 2007). "Inside the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the Seizure of Kabul, December 1979". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Retrieved 2007-09-25.
- Grau, Lester. "The Takedown of Kabul: An Effective Coup de Main". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 2007-09-25.