The Taliban fighter crawled silently across the alleyway almost within reach of the Gurkha position.
Even in the darkness of the early hours, WO2 Kailash Limbu’s night vision goggles showed clearly that the man silently crawling like a leopard was armed with an AK47 assault rifle.
Nine years later the image is etched strongly on the mind of the Gurkha soldier and with it a memory not so much of fear, but of how furious he was.
“My strongest memory is when I saw that leopard crawl in the alleyway, seeing someone is within 10m and trying to kill you,” he said
“We were there to support the people of Now Zad, we were not there to kill, we were trying to help, but they were trying to kill me and my men. So I was slightly scared, but I was angry.”
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Seconds later, the young Nepalese soldier opened fire into the alleyway. The crawling man screamed and was snatched into cover by unseen comrades.
Over the summer of 2006, British Army Gurkhas fought one of the longest and fiercest sieges of Britain’s Afghanistan conflict as they battled for weeks to stop the Taliban overrunning their tiny police compound.
The full inside story of the siege of Now Zad has now been told in the first ever autobiography written by a serving Gurkha soldier.
Then aged only 24, W02 Limbu was a section leader in a platoon sent to help secure a police compound in the district centre of Now Zad, in the earliest days of Britain’s mission to Helmand.
While the Government said British troops would be helping reconstruction efforts and winning hearts and minds, the overstretched force soon found itself instead strung out in platoon houses across the province, under furious attack.
W02 Limbu and his platoon were flown by Chinook helicopter to Now Zad to support the police for what they thought would be only a brief mission.
He told the Telegraph: “The initial plan was to go for 48 hours, but we ended up there for nearly a month under siege.”
The Gurkhas came under fire as soon as they landed and from then on were pinned down in their police compound under nearly daily attack by waves of fighters.
With the insurgent fighters using the cover of the town’s buildings to get within often only 10 or 20 yards of the British, the Gurkhas found themselves trying to repel attacks at close quarters.
By the time the fight was over the Gurkhas estimated they had killed 100 insurgents and fired around 50,000 rounds of ammunition.
WO2 Limbu said: “You could feel the bullets coming toward you and at night you could see the tracer criss-crossing from different directions.
“It just takes one bullet if you feel so many coming towards you. All it needs is a bad minute or a bad second.”
The attacks were so intense that after some of the attacks, soldiers in the compound’s gun positions found themselves ankle deep in spent bullet casings after hours of shooting to try to repel assaults.
The Gurkhas had so few soldiers they were unable to patrol into the town to go on the offensive.
W02 Limbu said: “We were totally fixed. We wanted to go out, to clear and fight, we were so frustrated. All the time, day and night they attacked.”
The town’s residents quickly fled the fighting, leaving it deserted except for insurgents. Taliban fighters, who were often unseen apart from the flash of their gunfire, were well prepared for the British and heavily armed. Their gunfire was often backed by volleys of mortar-fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
WO2 Limbu said: “They were very good fighters and they were brave men, but I didn’t have any regrets about trying to shoot them because they were first trying to kill us.”
At one point he won a mention in dispatches for exposing himself to heavy fire to twice shoot a shoulder-launched missile at a school building harbouring around 20 attackers. To deaden the deafening blast of the weapon, he stuffed an empty bullet casing in each ear.
The enemy was not only outside the compound, the Gurkhas soon found. As well as a detachment of Afghan national police in the compound, who were considered trustworthy, there were local police who were found to be directing attacks on them. During one early attack a local policeman was found giving in formation to the attackers on his mobile phone. While the Gurkhas had initially wanted to kill the spy, in the end they had only been able to confiscate his phone.
WO2 Limbu, who is now 33 and regimental quartermaster sergeant with 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles in Folkestone, describes himself as a “simple hill boy” who did not see a car until he was 15.
The exploits of his grandfather and uncle who were also Gurkhas left him with a desire to join up from as early as he can remember.
He said: “When I was growing up, my grandfather used to say, ‘If you want to become a man, you have to join the British Army”.
The brigade’s prestige and relatively high wages mean it remains a highly sought after career in Nepal. The year WO2 Limbu was recruited, there were 32,000 applicants for 230 places.
It is the camaraderie of the Gurkhas, who have fought for the British since 1815, that is key to their success he believes.
He said: “We have a lot of respect for each other and we have got a unity and we are very loyal. We are also always thinking of the regiment and the brigade.”