|Part of the Soviet–Afghan War (preliminary)|
The Tajbeg Palace, where the assault took place, photographed in 1987
|Commanders and leaders|
Grigory Boyarinov †
Hafizullah Amin †|
Afghan National Army|
Army National Guards
180 Presidential Palace Guards
|Casualties and losses|
350 killed (Hafizullah Amin, his two sons and 317 Army National Guards and 30 Palace and Leader's Guards)|
Amin's daughter gravely wounded
1,700 Afghan soldiers surrendered and 150 Palace and Leader's Guards captured
Operation Storm-333 (Russian: Шторм-333, romanized: Štorm-333), also known as the Tajbeg Palace Assault, was a covert operation that was executed by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan on 27 December 1979, in which Spetsnaz stormed the heavily fortified Tajbeg Palace in Kabul and assassinated People's Democratic Party General-Secretary Hafizullah Amin. It marked the beginning of what would later become known as the Soviet–Afghan War.
The operation was part of a larger Soviet plan to secure and take control of Afghanistan with their Afghan Parcham allies. Soviet troops crossed the Amu Darya on the Soviet–Afghan border, while others flew to air bases around the country with exiled Parchamites. The Tajbeg Palace, located on a high and steep hill near Kabul, was guarded by the Afghan National Army and was heavily secured and mined. In the ensuing battle, Afghan forces suffered major losses; 30 Afghan palace guards and over 300 army guards were killed while 150 were captured. Two of Amin's sons, an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old, died from shrapnel wounds. A total of 1,700 Afghan soldiers surrendered to Soviet forces and were taken as prisoners. The Soviets installed Babrak Karmal, from the party's rival faction, as Amin's successor.
Several other government buildings were seized from Amin's Khalqist government during the operation, including the Ministry of Interior building, the Internal Security (KHAD) building, and the General Staff building (Darul Aman Palace). Veterans of the Alpha Group call this operation one of the most successful in the group's history. Russian documents released during the 1990s show that the Soviet leadership believed Amin had secret contacts with the American embassy in Kabul and "was capable of reaching an agreement with the United States". However, allegations of Amin colluding with the U.S. have been widely discredited.
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; 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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
Palace assault and death of Amin
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. The Tajbeg Palace was guarded by the Afghan National Army.
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." 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. 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 a 'Revolutionary Troika' arrested and sentenced to death, were executed on the spot with a bullet in the back of the neck. Amin's two sons were fatally wounded and died shortly after. Amin's daughter was wounded, but survived. 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.
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. A total of 1,700 Afghan soldiers surrendered to Soviet troops and were taken prisoner. The whole operation took about 40 minutes.
During the assault on the Tajbeg 5 officers of the KGB special forces, 7 troops from the "Muslim Battalion", and 8 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.
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 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.
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.
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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.
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'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.'
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