The Taliban has closed universities for female students, the Ministry of Higher Education said on Tuesday in Afghanistan.
"You are all informed to immediately implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females under further notice," read a letter issued by the Ministry to all government and private universities.
A spokesman for the Education Ministry also tweeted the letter, with the ban meaning that girls and women have been effectively locked out of classrooms after 6th grade.
The ban on higher education comes less than three months after thousands of women took university entrance exams across the country, with many aspiring to become teachers or medical practitioners.
Universities had remained open to women since the Taliban swept back into power in August 2021, so long as they attended classes separated from male students.
The Taliban-led government in Afghanistan also reportedly specified subjects that women could choose to study at their universities.
US says ban will have consequences
"The United States condemns the Taliban's indefensible decision to prevent Afghan women from receiving a university-level education," US National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that "this unacceptable stance will have significant consequences for the Taliban and will further alienate the Taliban from the international community."
The Taliban announcement also came as the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss Afghanistan.
"The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans, especially the human rights and fundamental freedom of women and girls," Robert Wood, the US deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said.
Taliban shut down secondary schools last year
Since returning to power, the Taliban has shut down girls' secondary schools across the country.
While students protested the closure as recently as September this year, their campaign to attend classes at schools has been unsuccessful so far. International pressure on the Taliban to allow girls to attend schools has also proved unsuccessful.
The Taliban maintained they were working on a plan for girls' secondary education but haven't given a time frame.
Primary schools remain open for all children.
Women's rights at stake
The Taliban has declared they respect everyone's rights within their interpretation of Islamic law, but the question of ensuring rights for women and girls has been one of their biggest controversies since taking power.
While the Taliban banned education for women from education and work during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001, girls were allowed to go to school and women were allowed to work in the two decades between Taliban administrations in Afghanistan.
Taliban release two US prisoners
In a separate move, the Taliban released two Americans held in Afghanistan.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, "This, we understand, to have been a goodwill gesture on the part of the Taliban. This was not part of any swap of prisoners or detainees. There was no money that exchanged hands."
He did not identify the two Americans who were released to Qatar.
According to CNN, one is filmmaker Ivor Shearer who was arrested in mid-August with his colleague in the capital Kabul.
At the time, he was allegedly in the neighborhood where al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had been targeted and killed by a US drone strike.
jsi,lo,rm/es (Reuters, AFP, AP)