Storming of the Presidential Palace
At twenty minutes past seven, Tapa-e-Tajbeg was shelled by rockets from the west side. That evening under a clear sky the fertile Chardi Basin, where Tajbeg is located, became a scene of carnage. The sounds of rockets prompted many people in the city, myself among them, to climb onto the flat rooftops of their houses to see what was happening. Because of the tyranny of the government, the people had turned against it and hoped to see it toppled. They were, however, disappointed. Instead of Afghans, the Alpha antiterrorist squad of the KGB, dressed in Afghan uniforms and commanded by Colonel Boyarinov, had gone into operation. Leaders of both the party and the government were also caught unaware. They had a blind faith in the Kremlin rulers and did not expect that their supporters would overthrow them by force. An exception may have been President Amin, but on this point his views had not become known.
The rocket attack was the external sign of the operations. The scene of the major operations was on the ground. The armored units had already started moving from Kabul International Airport, located on the opposite side of the city. They needed time to reach Tajbeg and other strategic places. The operation began on one of the longest nights of the year. From Kabul International Airport the units headed to the various places in the outskirts of the city where Afghan army divisions had been stationed. The movements of these units made the earth shake as if Kabul had been hit by one of its periodic tremors.
The sounds of these movements were heard as far as Khushal Maina, in the western outskirts of the city, from where I was watching the scene. The Russian military units headed toward the various military and strategic centers, such as tank units number four and fifteen in thePul-e-Charkhi area, the Qargha Division, the Rishkhor Division, the police force of the Ministry of Interior, the television and radio station, and, of course, the presidential palace. These were all the organized military and strategic centers in and around the capital city from which immediate opposition could be offered; occupying them would ensure immediate success.
The Soviets intended to occupy the nerve centers of the city unaware. “Russian advisers already attached to Afghan army units repeated tricks used during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Turn in all live ammunition and substitute blank rounds for a ‘training exercise,’ the Afghan soldiers had been told. Batteries were removed from vehicles for winterization.…Due to an alleged shortage, the diesel fuel in the older tanks had to be siphoned off for the replacement armor.” Also, Soviet advisers had persuaded some of the personnel of the Kabul air base to go on vacation and then had given their duties to the newly arrived Soviet experts. Although Soviet advisers did not directly control the units, as they had before Amin came to power, they succeeded in persuading the Afghan personnel to do their bidding.
Some former leading members of the faction of the party to which President Amin belonged accompanied the invading units. Being influential with the army, they had turned against Amin when, in September of the same year, a split in the leadership occurred that led to their expulsion. They then took refuge in the Soviet embassy. When the invading military units attacked Tajbeg, two of them, Sayyed Mohammad Gulabzoy and Asadullah Sarwari, guided the invaders. But the presidential guards stationed near the palace held them back with counterattacks.