KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Foreign aid groups on Sunday suspended their operations in Afghanistan following a decision by the country’s Taliban rulers to ban women from working at international and local non-governmental organizations.

Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE, said they cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without their female staff.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. has condemned the Taliban for ordering non-governmental groups in Afghanistan to stop employing women, saying the ban will disrupt vital and life-saving assistance to millions.

The Taliban takeover last year sent Afghanistan’s economy into a tailspin and transformed the country, driving millions into poverty and hunger. Foreign aid stopped almost overnight. Sanctions on Taliban rulers, a halt on bank transfers and frozen billions in Afghanistan’s currency reserves have already restricted access to global institutions and the outside money that supported the country’s aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

“Women are central to humanitarian operations around the world,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday. “This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people.”

The NGO order came in a letter from Economy Minister Qari Din Mohammed Hanif. It said any organization found not complying with the order will have their operating license revoked in Afghanistan. It is the latest blow to female rights and freedoms since the Taliban seized power last year and follows sweeping restrictions on education, employment, clothing and travel.

The flurry of edicts from the all-male and religiously driven Taliban government are reminiscent of their rule in the late 1990s, when they banned women from education and public spaces and outlawed music, television and many sports.

The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was deeply disturbed by reports of the NGO ban.

“The United Nations and its partners, including national and international non-governmental organizations, are helping more than 28 million Afghans who depend on humanitarian aid to survive,” he said in a statement.

Aid agencies and NGOs are expected to make a statement Sunday.

The Economy Ministry’s order comes days after the Taliban banned female students from attending universities across the country, triggering backlash overseas and demonstrations in major Afghan cities.

At around midnight Saturday in the western city of Herat, where earlier protesters were dispersed with water cannons, people opened their windows and chanted “Allahu Akbar (God is great)” in solidarity with female students.

In the southern city of Kandahar, also on Saturday, hundreds of male students boycotted their final semester exams at Mirwais Neeka University. One of them told The Associated Press that Taliban forces tried to break up the crowd as they left the exam hall.

“They tried to disperse us so we chanted slogans, then others joined in with the slogans,” said Akhbari, who only gave his last name. “We refused to move and the Taliban thought we were protesting. The Taliban started shooting their rifles into the air. I saw two guys being beaten, one of them to the head.”

A spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, Ataullah Zaid, denied there was a protest. There were some people who were pretending to be students and teachers, he said, but they were stopped by students and security forces.