British troops yesterday gave a graphic account of furious firefights with the Taliban - with mortars and ammunition raining down on them night and day.

The 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkhas Rifles went to Nawzad, north of Lashkar Gar, in July ostensibly to help the Afghan National Police (ANP) keep the peace.

But within days of arrival in the north of Helmand province the situation disintegrated into full-scale warfare, with "thousands and thousands" of rounds being fired on both sides.

For two weeks solid, the soldiers were holed up in their platoon house in the town, defending the outpost.

Platoon commander Lieutenant Angus Mathers, 26, from Cheltenham, who joined 2RGR in November 2004, said he had never known such severe fighting.

"When we arrived things were very normal, markets were continuing and people were out on the streets, but after about a week things deteriorated," he said.

"All the attacks were on the platoon house and our support building nearby.

"In one attack, two or three rocket-propelled grenades (rpgs) signalled the start of the contact and were followed by a significant amount of machine gun fire."

For days on end, the Taliban kept up a sustained attack using machine guns, sniper rifles and rpgs.

"We had fire from north through to the south - all around," said Lt Mathers. "They used the extensive tunnel network left over from the Russians.

"They have incredible knowledge of the ground - that is one of their strengths, I would say, for them to maintain the tempo that they did."

Lt Mathers said it was difficult to estimate how many Taliban were involved in the firefights. "I would like to say that it was just dawn and dusk attacks but not at all. It was through the day, through the evening," he added.

There were seven significant attacks, ranging from two to six hours over a two-week period - one in which the Taliban relied on the full moon to see; on at least one occasion the Taliban came within 20 metres of the platoon house.

Three mortar rounds were fired into the middle of the compound - incredibly they did not hurt anyone and throughout their ordeal, the platoon only suffered a few minor injuries.

One Ghurka refused to stop fighting when a bullet ricocheted off his helmet and hit him in the face.

The Taliban's tactic was to stay as mobile as possible, moving their mortar guns around so British forces would not know where they were: "The Taliban are not stupid. They keep these assets mobile and move them around the province so they cannot be found. They are able to move from one area to another as they go - they can turn the focus wherever they want."

There were a total of 28 contacts between the Taliban and British troops recorded in two weeks.

Lt Mathers said the UK retaliation was intense: "We fired back with every weapon system that we had, the guns that each soldier carried, grenade launchers, machine guns and medium and high calibre machine guns."

But he insisted the situation never reached crisis point: "It was never out of control, there was never any worry that the defensive infrastructure was going to to collapse and there was never a time when we thought we were going to be overrun."

Lt Mathers said the platoon was given vital support from other units on the ground and by air, including Apaches, US A10 jets, and F16 jets. A number of 500lb bombs and a 2,000lb bomb was dropped on the enemy, destroying crucial Taliban posts.

Eventually, the attacks died down as the Taliban withdrew.

"After such intensity they needed to step back," he said. "But the Taliban are not to be underestimated, they are very capable.

"Their knowledge of the ground is extensive and they are made up of a combination of local commanders and foreign fighters who have come across the Afghan borders.

"They have the hard core who are happy to keep fighting and the local commanders who know the ground exceptionally well."