Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the accusations of burning down homes was under investigation.

The group’s public responses, though rarely sincere, play directly into a strategy meant to portray the insurgents as a comparable option to the Afghan government. And they ignore the fact that local feuds drive large amounts of the war’s violence, outweighing any official orders from the Taliban leadership.

On the battlefield, things are shifting quickly. Thousands of Afghan soldiers and militia members have surrendered in past weeks, forfeiting weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles as the Taliban take district after district. Government forces have counterattacked, recapturing several districts, though not on the scale of the insurgents’ recent victories.

But little reported are Taliban losses, aside from the inflated body counts announced by the Afghan government’s Ministry of Defense. The Taliban, with their base strength long estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 fighters, depending on the time of year, have taken serious casualties in recent months, especially in the country’s south.

The casualties are primarily from the Afghan and U.S. air forces, and sometimes from Afghan commando units.

Mullah Basir Akhund, a former commander and member of the Taliban since 1994, said that cemeteries along the Pakistani border, where Taliban fighters have long been buried, are filling up faster than in years past. Pakistani hospitals, part of the country’s unwavering line of support for the insurgents, are running out of bed space. During a recent visit to a hospital in Quetta, a hub for the Taliban in Pakistan, Mr. Akhund said he saw more than 100 people, most of them Taliban fighters, waiting to be treated.

But despite tough battles, the weight of a nearly withdrawn superpower, and the Taliban’s own leadership issues, the insurgents continue to adapt.

Even as they seek to conquer the country, the Taliban are aware of their legacy of harsh rule, and do not want to “become the same pariah and isolated state” that Afghanistan was in the 1990s, said Ibraheem Bahiss, an International Crisis Group consultant and an independent research analyst.

“They’re playing the long game,” Mr. Bahiss said.

Reporting was contributed by Asadullah Timory in Herat, Taimoor Shah in Kandahar, Ruhullah Khapalwak, Farooq Jan Mangal in Khost and Zabihullah Ghazi in Jalalabad.

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U.S. Aid to Central America Hasn’t Slowed Migration. Can Kamala Harris?

SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.

Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”

Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”

soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.

have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.

That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.

Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.

linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.

Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.

critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.

But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.

Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.

independent studies have found.

“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.

But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”

One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.

Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.

The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.

Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.

“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.

But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”

These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.

One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.

“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.

His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.

Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.

While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.

“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”

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Why Apple and Google’s Virus Alert Apps Had Limited Success

Sarah Cavey, a real estate agent in Denver, was thrilled last fall when Colorado introduced an app to warn people of possible coronavirus exposures.

Based on software from Apple and Google, the state’s smartphone app uses Bluetooth signals to detect users who come into close contact. If a user later tests positive, the person can anonymously notify other app users whom the person may have crossed paths with in restaurants, on trains or elsewhere.

Ms. Cavey immediately downloaded the app. But after testing positive for the virus in February, she was unable to get the special verification code she needed from the state to warn others, she said, even after calling Colorado’s health department three times.

“They advertise this app to make people feel good,” Ms. Cavey said, adding that she had since deleted the app, called CO Exposure Notifications, in frustration. “But it’s not really doing anything.”

announced last year that they were working together to create a smartphone-based system to help stem the virus, their collaboration seemed like a game changer. Human contact tracers were struggling to keep up with spiking virus caseloads, and the trillion-dollar rival companies — whose systems run 99 percent of the world’s smartphones — had the potential to quickly and automatically alert far more people.

Soon Austria, Switzerland and other nations introduced virus apps based on the Apple-Google software, as did some two dozen American states, including Alabama and Virginia. To date, the apps have been downloaded more than 90 million times, according to an analysis by Sensor Tower, an app research firm.

But some researchers say the companies’ product and policy choices limited the system’s usefulness, raising questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.

Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith, computer science researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, wrote in a report in April on Ireland’s virus alert app.

CA Notify in December, about 65,000 people have used the system to alert other app users, the state said.

“Exposure notification technology has shown success,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, the chief information officer of UC San Diego Health, which manages California’s app. “Whether it’s hundreds of lives saved or dozens or a handful, if we save lives, that’s a big deal.”

In a joint statement, Apple and Google said: “We’re proud to collaborate with public health authorities and provide a resource — which many millions of people around the world have enabled — that has helped protect public health.”

Based in part on ideas developed by Singapore and by academics, Apple and Google’s system incorporated privacy protections that gave health agencies an alternative to more invasive apps. Unlike virus-tracing apps that continuously track users’ whereabouts, the Apple and Google software relies on Bluetooth signals, which can estimate the distance between smartphones without needing to know people’s locations. And it uses rotating ID codes — not real names — to log app users who come into close contact for 15 minutes or more.

said last year in a video promoting the country’s alert system, called Corona-Warn-App.

But the apps never received the large-scale efficacy testing typically done before governments introduce public health interventions like vaccines. And the software’s privacy features — which prevent government agencies from identifying app users — have made it difficult for researchers to determine whether the notifications helped hinder virus transmission, said Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“The apps played virtually no role at all in our being able to investigate outbreaks that occurred here,” Dr. Osterholm said.

Some limitations emerged even before the apps were released. For one thing, some researchers note, exposure notification software inherently excludes certain vulnerable populations, such as elderly people who cannot afford smartphones. For another thing, they say, the apps may send out false alarms because the system is not set up to incorporate mitigation factors like whether users are vaccinated, wearing masks or sitting outside.

Proximity detection in virus alert apps can also be inconsistent. Last year, a study on Google’s system for Android phones conducted on a light-rail tram in Dublin reported that the metal walls, flooring and ceilings distorted Bluetooth signal strength to such a degree that the chance of accurate proximity detection would be “similar to that of triggering notifications by randomly selecting” passengers.

Kimbley Craig, the mayor of Salinas, Calif. Last December, when virus rates there were spiking, she said, she downloaded the state’s exposure notification app on her Android phone and soon after tested positive for Covid-19. But after she entered the verification code, she said, the system failed to send an alert to her partner, whom she lives with and who had also downloaded the app.

“If it doesn’t pick up a person in the same household, I don’t know what to tell you,” Mayor Craig said.

In a statement, Steph Hannon, Google’s senior director of product management for exposure notifications, said that there were “known challenges with using Bluetooth technology to approximate the precise distance between devices” and that the company was continuously working to improve accuracy.

The companies’ policies have also influenced usage trends. In certain U.S. states, for instance, iPhone users can activate the exposure notifications with one click — by simply turning on a feature on their settings — but Android users must download a separate app. As a result, about 9.6 million iPhone users in California had turned on the notifications as of May 10, the state said, far outstripping the 900,000 app downloads on Android phones.

Google said it had built its system for states to work on the widest range of devices and be deployed as quickly as possible.

Some public health experts acknowledged that the exposure alert system was an experiment in which they, and the tech giants, were learning and incorporating improvements as they went along.

One issue they discovered early on: To hinder false alarms, states verify positive test results before a person can send out exposure notifications. But local labs can sometimes take days to send test results to health agencies, limiting the ability of app users to quickly alert others.

In Alabama, for instance, the state’s GuideSafe virus alert app has been downloaded about 250,000 times, according to Sensor Tower. But state health officials said they had been able to confirm the positive test results of only 1,300 app users. That is a much lower number than health officials would have expected, they said, given that more than 10 percent of Alabamians have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The app would be a lot more efficient if those processes were less manual and more automated,” said Dr. Scott Harris, who oversees the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Colorado, which automatically issues the verification codes to people who test positive, has reported higher usage rates. And in California, UC San Diego Health has set up a dedicated help line that app users can call if they did not receive their verification codes.

Dr. Longhurst, the medical center’s chief information officer, said the California app had proved useful as part of a larger statewide public health push that also involved mask-wearing and virus testing.

“It’s not a panacea,” he said. But “it can be an effective part of a pandemic response.”

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5 Tips to Take Command of Your iPhone

Last month, Apple released an update to its operating system, iOS 14.5, which gives users more control of their personal data. But if you’re looking to gain more control over the iPhone itself, you also have options. Want to put your favorite apps within easy reach, tag friends in Messages or set your preferred browser to open links? You can do all that and more.

Here are a few quick tips for enhancing the iPhone experience. Next week’s Tech Tip column will round up a few helpful hints for the Android faithful.

The Control Center — that handy panel of often-used settings summoned with a finger swipe — first appeared back in 2013 and got more useful when Apple began to let users add their preferred buttons a few years later. If you haven’t tinkered with your Control Center to add the features and functions you use the most, just open the Settings icon on the home screen, scroll down to Control Center and give it a tap.

Credit…Apple

From the list on the next screen, choose the icons for the apps and settings you want to live in your Control Center. While tools like the Flashlight are typically there by default, you can remove those you never use and add icons for apps you want, like the Magnifier, the QR Code scanner or even the Shazam music recognition feature. To rearrange the order of the icons on the screen, drag them up and down the list before you close the Settings app.

Back Tap feature to have your iPhone perform a specific action when you give it quick taps on the back.

Credit…Apple

To set it up, open the Settings, select Accessibility and then Touch, and scroll down to Back Tap. Once you select Back Tap, select either Double or Triple Tap and choose an action on the next screen, like opening the Spotlight search app or the Control Center or running a Shortcut you’ve set up with Apple’s Shortcuts app. You can assign two separate tasks to the Double Tap and Triple Tap functions — and Back Tap should work even if your iPhone is in a case.

Tired of the iPhone always opening the Safari browser instead of your favored DuckDuckGo when you tap a link, or firing up Apple’s Mail program instead of the Gmail app when you select an email address from your Contacts list? If your iPhone is running iOS 14 or later, you can choose the apps you want as your default programs.

Messages chat or get someone’s attention in a group conversation, just as you can on some social media platforms? You can do both.

Credit…Apple

To reply to a certain message in either a one-on-one or group chat where everyone is using the Messages app, press your finger on that message until a menu appears. Select Reply, enter your response and tap the blue Send arrow. To tag someone in a conversation so he or she gets a notification, put the @ symbol in front of the name or just type the name and select it when it pops up onscreen from your Contacts.

Apple’s Siri voice assistant, celebrating a decade on the iPhone this October, has been losing ground in knowledge and usefulness to Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant in recent years. To boost Siri’s powers, Apple added more skills in iOS 14. And with iOS 14.5, it now includes a more diverse set of voices.

Credit…Apple

To change how and when Siri sounds, open the Settings icon on the home screen, select Siri & Search and make your selections. You can also opt to display your conversations on the screen by tapping Siri Responses and turning on “Always Show Siri Captions” and “Always Show Speech” to make sure you see the last word, too.

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The Big Deal in Amazon’s Antitrust Case

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.

Hoo boy, this is a moment. A government authority in the United States has sued Amazon over claims that the company is breaking the law by unfairly crushing competition.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by the attorney general for the District of Columbia, joins the recent government antitrust cases against Google and Facebook. These lawsuits will take forever, and legal experts have said that the companies likely have the upper hand in court.

The D.C. attorney general, Karl Racine, however, is making a legal argument against Amazon that is both old-school and novel, and it might become a blueprint for crimping Big Tech power.

It’s a longstanding claim by some of the independent merchants who sell on Amazon’s digital mall that the company punishes them if they list their products for less on their own websites or other shopping sites like Walmart.com. Those sellers are effectively saying that Amazon dictates what happens on shopping sites all over the internet, and in doing so makes products more expensive for all of us.

told me that he believed that those price claims were the strongest potential antitrust case against Amazon on legal grounds. (He has since been picked to advise the White House on corporate competition issues.)

I don’t know if any of these lawsuits against Big Tech will succeed at chipping away at the companies’ tremendous influence. And I can’t definitively say whether we’re better or worse off by having a handful of powerful technology companies that make products used and often loved by billions of people.

the price of power is scrutiny.

How to fight back against bogus online information: The comedian Sarah Silverman and three of my colleagues are hosting a virtual event Wednesday about disinformation and how to combat it. Sign up here for the online event at 7 p.m. Eastern. It’s open only to New York Times subscribers.



fine social media companies for permanently barring political candidates’ accounts. The measure is most likely unconstitutional and unenforceable, Democrats, libertarian groups and tech companies told my colleague David McCabe, but it’s a response to Facebook’s and Twitter’s suspension of former President Donald Trump.

  • Posting is life. My colleague Taylor Lorenz explains how social media invitations to a teenager’s birthday party spread on TikTok and drew thousands of people and a police crackdown. The event got big partly because it was an opportunity for attendees to post compelling material online. SIGH.

  • POTUS loves Apple News? I don’t like it when computers and smartphones come with the device makers’ apps already installed, but it’s effective — even with the president of the United States. The Washington Post reported that during the 2020 campaign Joe Biden shared with aides human interest stories from Apple News, which came on his iPhone and he apparently hadn’t deleted.

  • The Linda Lindas are glorious. Here is the talented punk band of four girls between the ages of 10 and 16 — Bela, Eloise, Mila and Lucia — playing “Racist, Sexist Boy” at a Los Angeles public library. The Guardian interviewed them about their sudden internet fame.


    We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

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    Rolling Blackouts Hit Taiwan After Accident at Power Plant

    TAIPEI, Taiwan — An accident at a power plant in southern Taiwan on Thursday prompted the authorities to institute an emergency rolling blackout across the island, leaving millions without electricity in the middle of the workday.

    Taipower, the state-run utility company, said that the outage was caused by a grid failure at the Hsinta Power Plant in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Shortly after, at around 3 p.m., residents around the island received a government alert on their mobile phones warning of the coming blackouts. Then, several cities, including Tainan, Taoyuan, and the capital city of Taipei, saw electricity cut almost instantly.

    Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, said Thursday afternoon that the power would be gradually restored as the government worked to resolve the issue. Chang Ting-shu, a spokesman for Taipower, said the utility was hoping to limit the blackouts so that residents would only experience 50 minutes of outage at a time. The utility is investigating the cause of the failure.

    The sudden outage caught many of the island’s 24 million residents off guard. In several cities, the police were forced to manually direct traffic. In the eastern city of Hualien, the local fire department received requests to assist people trapped in elevators and help at least one patient who was on a ventilator, according to Taiwan’s official Central News Agency. The government said it would prioritize restoring power for certain places like government offices, hospitals and military-related areas.

    global hub for high-tech manufacturing and is known for its computer chip industry, whose products are essential components for smartphones, cars and other gadgets.

    Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the chip manufacturing giant, said that some of the company’s facilities had experienced a power dip as a result of the outage but that electricity was being supplied as normal.

    “T.S.M.C. has taken emergency response measures and prepared generators to minimize potential impact,” the company said in an email.

    The Taipower spokesman said that the scale of the outage on Thursday appeared to be smaller than a previous islandwide power blackout in 2017. That outage, which lasted for five hours, resulted in about $3 million worth of losses for 151 companies in industrial parks and export processing zones, said the ministry of economic affairs at the time.

    Thursday’s outage came as Taiwan has been racing to subdue a recent outbreak of the coronavirus. On Wednesday, the island’s health authorities announced 16 cases of local transmission, the highest single day total since the pandemic began last year.

    On Thursday, officials from Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control were holding a daily news briefing in Taipei to announce 13 new local cases when the room suddenly went dark.

    A video of the briefing showed officials sitting on the darkened stage in confusion as reporters talked among themselves, their faces lit by the glowing screens of their laptops. Shortly after, the power came back on.

    Raymond Zhong contributed reporting.

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