The at the heart of the Afghan capital on Tuesday morning was a bloody reminder of how the war there is spiralling to new levels of violence, and spilling into urban areas that were once deemed relatively safe.
For years Afghans fled to the capital, and other major cities, to escape the daily brutality of a war fought mostly in their rural home districts. But as the conflict has intensified nationwide, following the departure of western forces, both fear and bloodshed has spilled over into urban areas.
The promise of the government and its western backers that their authority would stand firm in towns and cities, even if insurgents took the countryside, are ringing increasingly hollow.
Kabul’s streets are now deemed so dangerous that the US embassy ferries its staff from airport to bunkered embassy by helicopter, to avoid a five-minute drive down a broad, straight road.
Last autumn, the Taliban , the first time their flag had flown over a provincial capital since 2001, after using its rural outskirts to gather fighters, harry troops and plan their final assault.
And in southern Helmand the collapse of security forces in rural districts has left the capital, Lashkar Gah, looking increasingly like an isolated outpost of government control, rather than a beacon of security.
The spread of fighting into more populated areas has brought a rise in civilian casualties, with from fighting near schools and homes, the UN said in a recent report.
Confidence in a government divided by old political rifts and more recent bitter squabbles, is tumbling. The army and police are battered by corruption, shortages, attrition of men and incompetent and sometimes callous leadership.
So Afghans were already bracing for a bloody spring, after the Taliban proclamation of their annual offensive, which marks the unofficial start of “fighting season”.
Violence picks up from April when the opium poppy harvest is in, spring foliage provides cover for fighters, and snow melts on the mountain passes that fighters use to return from safe havens in Pakistan.
This year the insurgents named their assault , and in some ways the Kabul attack followed a pattern of guerrilla assaults the veteran would have found familiar.
Aimed at seizing headlines rather than territory, suicide squads select a high-profile target, use a car or truck bomb to breach a guarded compound and cause maximum casualties and then send fighters in to prolong the assault with a drawn-out fight to the death.
But the attack in Kabul was the bloodiest on the capital in months, perhaps years – the final toll has not yet been tallied up.
And adding to the sense of vulnerability, attackers who have often been foiled by Kabul intelligence units in the past managed to hit and penetrate the military headquarters of an elite fighting squad, apparently tasked with protecting VIPs and officers from the Taliban.
Their compound was just a few hundred metres from even higher-profile targets from the presidential palace to the US embassy, in an area that should have had extra security surveillance.
And while the target was elite – the victims, as so often in these attacks, appear to have been mostly ordinary civilians.
About 30 dead and more than 300 injured were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time – hit by shrapnel at a bus stop on their way to work, flying glass in shops and homes nearby, or stray bullets as they tried to take shelter.
Kabul is back in the headlines as it mourns these dead, but most other lives claimed by the escalating war in recent months have brought little attention from the wider world. Many in fear the summer will bring only more unnoticed tragedy.