Tajbeg Palace assault

Coordinates: 34°27′17″N 69°06′48″E / 34.45472°N 69.11333°E / 34.45472; 69.11333
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Tajbeg Palace assault
Part of the Soviet–Afghan War (preliminary)

The Tajbeg Palace, where the Soviet assault took place, photographed in 1987
Date27 December 1979
Kabul, Afghanistan
Result Soviet victory
 Soviet Union Afghanistan Afghanistan
Commanders and leaders
Major General Yuri Drozdov
Colonel Grigory Boyarinov [ru] 
Colonel Vasily Kolesnik [ru]
Captain Valery Vostrotin
Captain Viktor Karpukhin

Hafizullah Amin 
Major Sabri Jandad

Daoud Taroon 
Units involved
Afghan Army[1]
Army National Guards
Supported by:
180 Presidential Palace Guards
660 2,200[2]
Casualties and losses
15 killed (including 1 non-participating officer)
25 wounded[2]
350 soldiers (Hafizullah Amin, his two sons and 317 Army National Guards and 30 Palace and Leader's Guards) and 1 civilian (wife of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Wali) killed
Amin's wife and daughter gravely wounded
1,700 Afghan soldiers surrendered and 150 Palace and Leader's Guards captured[3]

The Tajbeg Palace assault, known by the military codename Operation Storm-333 (Russian: Шторм-333, Štorm-333), was a military raid executed by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan on 27 December 1979. It saw Spetsnaz GRU storm the heavily fortified Tajbeg Palace in Kabul and subsequently assassinate Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin, a Khalqist of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) who had taken power in the Saur Revolution of April 1978. The Soviet military operation marked the beginning of what would later become known as the Soviet–Afghan War.

The assassination of Amin was part of a larger Soviet plan to secure and take control of Afghanistan with support from the PDPA's Parcham faction, which opposed the hardline ideology espoused by the rival Khalq faction; a number of Soviet troops crossed the Amu Darya and entered Afghanistan by land while others flew to airbases around the country with exiled Parchamis in preparation for the assassination.[4] The Tajbeg Palace, located on a high and steep hill in Kabul,[5] was surrounded by landmines and guarded by extraordinarily large contingents of the Afghan National Army.[1] Nonetheless, Afghan forces suffered major losses during the Soviet operation;[3] 30 Afghan palace guards and over 300 army guards were killed while another 150 were captured.[6] Two of Amin's sons, an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old, died from shrapnel wounds sustained during the clashes.[7] In the aftermath of the operation, a total of 1,700 Afghan soldiers who surrendered to Soviet forces were taken as prisoners,[4] and the Soviets installed Babrak Karmal, the leader of the PDPA's Parcham faction, as Amin's successor.

Several other government buildings were seized from Amin's Khalqist government during the operation, including those for the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the KHAD, and the General Staff (Darul Aman Palace). Veterans of the Soviet Union's Alpha Group have stated that Operation Storm-333 was one of the most successful in the unit's history. Documents released following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s revealed that the Soviet leadership believed Amin had secret contacts within the American embassy in Kabul and "was capable of reaching an agreement with the United States";[8] however, allegations of Amin colluding with the Americans have been widely discredited, with the Soviet archives revealing that the story of Amin as a CIA agent had been planted by the KGB.[9][10][11]


The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was initially led by Nur Muhammad Taraki, who was pro-Soviet Union, which resulted in cordial Afghan–Soviet relations. 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 orders), Afghan–Soviet relations started to deteriorate. The KGB claimed that Amin was a "smooth-talking fascist who was secretly pro-western".[12] By December the Soviet leadership had established an alliance with Babrak Karmal.[13] 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.[14]

Soviet forces[edit]

Storm-333 was part of a bigger operation, Baikal-79, aimed at taking control over approximately 20 key strongholds in and around Kabul, which included major military headquarters, communication centers and jails.[15]

The core of Storm-333 assault team included 25 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 and Гром (Grom - "Thunder"). There were also 87 troops of a company of the 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment.[16] 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. This motorized rifle battalion had been formed in the USSR earlier in 1979 at the specific request of the Afghan leader to guard his residence as he could not rely on Afghan troops.[15] 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.[citation needed]

The teams were assisted by Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoy in leading it to Tajbeg Palace.[17]

Palace assault and death of Amin[edit]

Photograph taken by a Soviet official of the Tajbeg Palace following the operation

The raid on the Tajbeg Palace, where General Secretary Amin was in residence with his family at the suggestion of his KGB security advisers, took place around 7 p.m. on 27 December 1979.[15][18] The Tajbeg Palace was guarded by the Afghan National Army.[1]

During the attack, Amin still believed the Soviet Union was on his side, and told his adjutant, "The Soviets will help us."[19] 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."[20] He was captured alive by Grom troops, but semi-conscious, suffering convulsions due to interrupted medical treatment related to a poisoning that occurred on December 16 of the same year.[5] The exact details of his later death have never been confirmed by any eye witness. The official announcement of his death on Kabul Radio, as reported by the New York Times on 27 December 1979, was "Amin had been sentenced to death at a revolutionary trial for crimes against the state and that sentence had been carried out".

One story at the time was Amin was killed by Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoy, a previous Minister of Communication until ousted by Amin, who was present with two other previous ministers during the assault to give credence it was an Afghan-controlled operation. Gulabzoy and Mohammad Aslam Watanjar, the previous Minister for Defense, later confirmed his death. This story of his death after a summary trial is supported by the fate of Amin supporters who were executed on the spot with a bullet in the back of the neck, after a 'Revolutionary Troika' arrested and sentenced them to death.[21] Amin's two sons were fatally wounded and died shortly after.[20] Amin's wife and daughter were wounded, but survived.[22] 347 other Afghans, including 30 of Amin's most personal guards from Palace and Leader's guards, also died in the fighting, and part of the palace went up in flames.[citation needed]

150 of the 180 Palace and Leader's guards, who were regular troops, surrendered when they realized the attacking troops were from the USSR, not from an Afghan unit.[5] A total of 1,700 Afghan soldiers surrendered to Soviet troops and were taken prisoner.[3] The whole operation took about 40 minutes.[15] It was later determined in 2009 that Amin was mortally wounded by a fragment of a grenade that was thrown by Senior lieutenant Alexander Nikolaevich Plyusnin (1949–2022). The wife of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shah Wali (born 1939), was also killed in the operation.

Soviet losses[edit]

During the assault on the Tajbeg five officers of the KGB special forces, seven troops from the "Muslim Battalion", and two paratroopers were killed. The commander of the KGB contingent, Col. Boyarinov, was killed. All the surviving participants in the KGB troops in the operation were wounded. Also, Soviet army doctor Colonel Viktor Kuznechenkov, who was treating General Secretary Amin, was killed by friendly fire in the palace and was posthumously awarded the Order of the Red Banner.[23]

Memoirs of the participants[edit]

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.[24]

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 was immobilized by fire from Amin's troops, ordered them to abandon the BMP and run to the palace. All five were quickly wounded by intensive fire from the guards, but were saved by bulletproof vests and helmets.[24]

This account generally agrees with that of Aleksandr Lyakhovskiy, Soviet war historian and former director of the USSR Defense Ministry in Afghanistan, who gives more details and accentuates the ferocity and professionalism on both the attacking and defending sides.[25]


  1. ^ a b c Michael Newton (17 April 2014). Famous Assassinations in World History: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 17. ISBN 9781610692861.
  2. ^ a b Peter Tomsen (9 June 2011). Wars of Afghanistan (1st ed.). PublicAffairs. p. 174. ISBN 978-1586487638.
  3. ^ a b c Lester W. Grau. "The Take-Down of Kabul: An Effective Coup de Main". Global Security. Retrieved 7 December 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Afghanistan: Lessons from the Last War". nsarchive2.gwu.edu. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  5. ^ a b c Aleksandr Lyakhovskiy (January 2007). "Inside the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the Seizure of Kabul, December 1979" (PDF). Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 25 September 2007.
  6. ^ Martin McCauley (2008). Russia, America and the Cold War: 1949–1991 (Revised 2nd ed.). Harlow, UK: Pearson Education. ISBN 9781405874304.
  7. ^ "How Soviet troops stormed Kabul palace". BBC. 27 December 2009. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
  8. ^ John K. Cooley (2002) Unholy Wars. Pluto Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0745319179
  9. ^ Coll, Steve (2004). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin Group. pp. 47–49. ISBN 9781594200076. Frustrated and hoping to discredit him, the KGB initially planted false stories that Amin was a CIA agent. In the autumn these rumors rebounded on the KGB in a strange case of "blowback," the term used by spies to describe planted propaganda that filters back to confuse the country that first set the story loose.
  10. ^ James G. Blight (2012). Becoming Enemies: U.S.-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1979-1988. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-4422-0830-8.
  11. ^ Seth G. Jones (2010). In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 16–17. ISBN 9780393071429. 'It was total nonsense,' said the CIA's Graham Fuller. 'I would have been thrilled to have those kinds of contacts with Amin, but they didn't exist.'
  12. ^ Wahab, Shaista (1 December 1993). "United States-Afghanistan Diplomatic Relations, September-December 1979: Hafizullah Amin's Struggle For Survival". The University of Nebraska Omaha.
  13. ^ Angelo Rasanayagam (2005). Afghanistan: A Modern History. I.B.Tauris. p. 90. ISBN 978-1850438571.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b c d Dmitri Volin (25 December 2019) Участник штурма дворца Амина: мы шли под прямой автоматный огонь. tass.ru.
  16. ^ Vadim Udmantsev (29 December 2004) Боевое крещение "мусульман". VPK-news.ru (in Russian)
  17. ^ Landsford 2017, p. 185.
  18. ^ Braithwaite 2011, p. 96.
  19. ^ Braithwaite 2011, p. 98.
  20. ^ a b Braithwaite 2011, p. 99.
  21. ^ Braithwaite 2011.
  22. ^ Braithwaite 2011, p. 104.
  23. ^ Peter Tomsen (9 June 2011). Wars of Afghanistan (1st ed.). PublicAffairs. p. 174. ISBN 978-1586487638.
  24. ^ a b Interview with Colonel Oleg Balashov. BBC (in Russian)
  25. ^ A. A. Lyakhovskiy Декабрь, день27, 1979. orc.ru. This page refers to Alpha and Vympel by their previous names Grom and Zenith, respectively


34°27′17″N 69°06′48″E / 34.45472°N 69.11333°E / 34.45472; 69.11333