The order came from the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who issued an edict declaring statues, including ancient statues of the Buddha, as insulting to Islam.
"Because God is one God and these statues are there to be worshipped and that is wrong. They should be destroyed so that they are not worshipped now or in the future," Omar said in his edict, published by the Taliban-run Bakhtar News Agency.
Afghanistan's ancient Buddhas are located in Bamiyan, about 90 miles west of the Afghan capital of Kabul. One Buddha, measuring 175 feet, is said to be the world's tallest statue in which Buddha is standing up rather than sitting.
The smaller is 120 feet tall. The two statues, which have been damaged in fighting in the area, were carved out of the Afghan mountainside in the 5th century. Indian pilgrims traveling the ancient trade route known as the Silk Road introduced Buddhism to Afghanistan during the first centuries of the period identified as A.D. (after the death of Christ). Hindu influences were also strong in the region, but by the ninth and tenth centuries A.D., Islam was firmly entrenched though trade and conquest as the area's dominant faith tradition. Buddhism and Hinduism then gradually diminished.
It's not clear what prompted the latest edict from the Taliban. The religious army espouses a harsh brand of Islamic law and reviles all images as contrary to the tenets of the rigidly monotheistic faith.
The Taliban rule roughly 95 percent of the country, and the opposition, led by ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the remaining 5 percent.
Afghanistan's central museum also contains a treasure-trove of Buddhist-era artifacts. Much of the museum was destroyed in the bitter fighting between rival Islamic factions between 1992 and 1996, when the Taliban took control.
Many of the artifacts were stolen and sold on the open market. Some have appeared in museums around the world.
The tallest of the two giant Buddhas has already been damaged by zealous Taliban soldiers who fired rocket propelled grenades at it. There have been reports that the faces of the Buddhas have been disfigured. Images of faces are forbidden in Islam, according to the Taliban.
Omar ordered his Ministry of Vice and Virtue to send its men out to destroy all statues in Afghanistan.
The edict comes as an international delegation is in Kabul meeting with Taliban leaders to try to preserve Afghanistan's heritage. Among the delegation are the Italian and Greek ambassadors in neighboring Pakistan. There was no immediate comment from that delegation to the Taliban leader's newest order.