Operation Storm-333 (Шторм-333, Shtorm-333) was the codename of an operation on 27 December 1979 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.
Taking part in the operation were 24 men from the Гром (Grom – "Thunder") unit of Alpha Group, GRU, and 30 operators from a special KGB group Зенит (Zenit – "Zenith"). There were also 520 men from the 154th Separate Spetsnaz Detachment 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 GRU and KGB units were clad in bulletproof vests and helmets; this proved crucial, because Amin's personal guards were armed only with submachine guns, which were not able to penetrate the Soviet vests.
The 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 the 27th of December. 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. 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, who was second in command of the assault group, the group was led by two elite units of Alpha and Vympel (15–20 each). The Alpha group targeted Amin, and the Vympel group had the task of collecting factual evidence that Amin was collaborating with the United States. Both groups were brought to Afghanistan secretly and blended with Muslim Battalions to make an impression that the operation was carried out by local units, 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 in the operation. As Balashov expected, Amin's troops targeted the first and last vehicle in the convoy of six. He placed his Alpha 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.
- Tomsen, Peter (9 June 2011). Wars of Afghanistan (1st ed.). PublicAffairs. p. 174. ISBN 978-1586487638.
- 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.
- (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, "Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979–89", Profile Books, 2011. 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.